first quarto edition copy of ‘Macbeth: A Tragedy’
A first quarto edition copy of ‘Macbeth: A Tragedy’, formerly in the collection of actor Charlton Heston, which is estimated at $80,000-120,000 at Bonhams New York.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Having sold in March 2016 at Bonhams’ sale in Los Angeles titled The Charlton Heston Collection for $77,500 (£60,280) including premium, the first separate edition copy of the play will now be offered at Bonhams New York on December 5 with an estimate of $80,000-120,000.

Macbeth was among the 36 plays by Shakespeare printed in the First Folio of 1623, but it was not published as a stand-alone work until this edition of 1673.

As well as being both the first separate printing of the great tragedy as well as the first quarto edition, this edition was the first Shakespeare play published during the Restoration revival of the Bard’s work.

It was printed for William Cademan, seemingly to coincide with William Davenant's production of the play at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1673 – the list of players on the second leaf corresponds to the cast. The text used, however, follows that of the earlier First Folio, while Davenant's edited text appeared in printed form the following year.

Only three copies of this first 1673 edition are known in private hands but, unlike the current copy, the other two are missing the final two leaves.

As is often the case with 17th century quarto editions, this copy has a few condition issues including some tears, creases and staining to the title and list of players.

Stage career

While Heston, who died in 2008, is best remembered for films such as Ben Hur and El Cid, he played the role of Macbeth on stage more than any other Shakespeare character.  This included a production at the Ahmanson Theater in 1975 alongside Vanessa Redgrave.

Darren Sutherland, Bonhams’ senior specialist in Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts in New York, said: “Heston started his career as a Shakespearean actor and felt a particular connection to Macbeth, a role which he acted more than any other.”

He was also a keen collector of rare books and, according to the Heston family, this copy was a gift from his wife after a memorable 1950s stage performance.

“As it turned out, and I don’t think she knew, it’s very rare – as far as we know, the only complete copy of the first quarto Macbeth in private hands,” said Sutherland. “Its reappearance at auction marks a marvellous opportunity to acquire a remarkable copy of an important work.”