Richard III is believed to be one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, preceded only by the three parts of Henry VI and perhaps a handful of comedies. It is believed to have been written c. 1591. Although Richard III was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 20 October 1597, by the bookseller Andrew Wise, who published the first Quarto (Q1) later that year (with printing done by Valentine Simmes), Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, which cannot have been written much later than 1592 (Marlowe died in 1593) is thought to have been influenced by it. A second Quarto (Q2) followed in 1598, printed by Thomas Creede for Andrew Wise, containing an attribution to Shakespeare on its title page. Q3 appeared in 1602, Q4 in 1605, Q5 in 1612, and Q6 in 1622; the frequency attesting to its popularity. The First Folio version followed in 1623.
The Folio is longer than the Quarto, and contains some fifty additional passages amounting to more than two hundred lines. However, the Quarto contains some twenty-seven passages amounting to about thirty-seven lines which are absent from the Folio.:p.2 The two texts also contain hundreds of other differences, including the transposition of words within speeches, the movement of words from one speech to another, the replacement of words with near-synonyms, and many changes in grammar and spelling.:p.2
At one time it was thought that the Quarto represented a separate revision of the play by Shakespeare. However since the Quarto contains many changes which can only be regarded as mistakes, it is now widely believed that the Quarto was produced by memorial reconstruction.:p.3–10 It is thought likely that the Quarto was collectively produced by a company of actors remembering their lines. It is unknown why the actors did this, but it may have been to replace a missing prompt book.:p.19–21 The Folio is regarded as having much higher authority than the Quarto, but because the Folio edition was collated by the printers against a Quarto (probably Q3), some errors from the Quarto found their way into the Folio.:p.2 Some parts of the Folio (the beginning of Act III and much of Act V) are clearly copied, with little change, direct from the Quarto.:p.33 The Folio also has its own corruptions and omissions, and corrections have to be supplied, where possible, from the Quarto.:p.50