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FAQs about the Editions

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FAQs about the Folger Library Shakespeare Editions

Why did the Folger Shakespeare Library choose to re-edit Shakespeare's plays and poems?


In recent years, ways of dealing with Shakespeare’s texts and with the interpretation of his plays have been undergoing significant change.  The Folger Shakespeare Library editions, edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, reflect these current ways of thinking about Shakespeare. They include a complete re-editing of Shakespeare's works in the light of contemporary scholarship.



How have the editors edited the text with the needs of a modern audience in mind?


Modern readers, actors, and teachers have become interested in the differences between, on the one hand, the early forms in which Shakespeare’s plays were first published and, on the other hand, the forms in which editors through the centuries have presented them.  In response to this interest, we have based our editions on what we consider the best early printed version of a particular play (explaining our rationale in a section called "An Introduction to This Text”) and have marked our changes in the text—unobtrusively, we hope, but in such a way that the curious reader can be aware that a change has been made and can consult the "Textual Notes" to discover what appeared in the early printed versions.



When were the Folger Shakespeare Library editions created?


The Folger Shakespeare Library editions began publication with six plays in 1994: The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. The editions were completed with the publication of the play The Two Noble Kinsmen in 2010.


The initial publication of the editions therefore spans some sixteen years. Including the preceding years of research, preparation, and editing before the first volumes in 1994, the editions can be fairly described as the work of two decades of editorial endeavor.



But what does "editing" Shakespeare mean?


For additional information and insights about editing Shakespeare's work, see Barbara Mowat, "A Hard Act to Follow," Folger Magazine, Summer 2009.



Is this the first edition of Shakespeare's works from the Folger Shakespeare Library?


No. From 1960 to 1969, the Folger Shakespeare Library produced the Folger Library General Reader’s Shakespeare paperback editions of Shakespeare's work, edited by then-Folger Director Louis B. Wright and Virginia LaMar. The General Reader's Shakespeare editions do not reflect the newly re-edited text in the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, and are entirely distinct from them. Like the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, however, they used resources from the Folger collection to make Shakespeare more accessible, and presented notes and glosses on pages facing Shakespeare's text.



What additional features will readers find in the Folger editions?


We include explanatory notes designed to help make Shakespeare's language clearer to a modern reader, and we place the notes on the page facing the text that they explain.


We provide fresh accounts of the life of Shakespeare, of the publishing of his plays, and of the theaters in which his plays were performed.  We also include a section called "Reading Shakespeare’s Language," in which we try to help readers learn to “break the code” of Elizabethan poetic language.


Current ways of looking at the plays are reflected in our brief prefaces, in many of the commentary notes, in the annotated lists of "Further Reading," and especially in each play’s "Modern Perspective," an essay written by an outstanding scholar who brings to the reader his or her fresh assessment of the play in the light of today’s interests and concerns.



Where do the editors find the illustrations for the Folger editions?


We include illustrations—of objects, of clothing, of mythological figures—from the vast holdings of rare books and manuscripts in the Folger Library collection.



Do the Folger Shakespeare Library editions now include all of Shakespeare's plays and poems?


Yes. We have published editions of all of Shakespeare’s works, including the 38 plays and the poems. Click here for a complete list of titles and ISBNs.



How can teachers request examination copies and desk copies of the print editions?


Desk copies and examination copies are available through Simon and Schuster.  To request a copy of a Folger Shakespeare Library edition, visit the Simon and Schuster Teaching Resources page for the Folger editions. Note that the request buttons are at the bottom of the page.



Are the editions available in print, in digital form, or both?


All of the editions are available in print, including single-play paperbacks for all 38 of Shakespeare's plays. The Sonnets are available as a similarly sized paperback and in a larger paperback that includes all of Shakespeare's poems. There are also some multi-play editions.


Simon and Schuster, which publishes the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, also publishes the plays as ebooks, which include all the notes, glosses, additional essays, and other features from the print editions. Learn more about the Folger edition ebooks and how to purchase them here.


The full texts of Shakespeare's plays, as they appear in the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, are available free of charge through Folger Digital Texts.



Where do I find Folger Digital Texts, and what are they?

Folger Digital Texts, which are available at no cost, are meticulously accurate texts that include equally meticulous behind-the-scenes coding to make searching and other features more powerful and effective.

Readers, theatergoers, scholars, and students can enjoy the texts using a built-in digital reader, or download them as PDFs. Researchers and developers are encouraged to download the source codes of the texts at no cost for use in non-commercial projects or research, including mobile apps.

The texts of Shakespeare's plays found in Folger Digital Texts are the same texts that appear in the Folger Shakespeare Library editions.  Folger Digital Texts of the plays do not, however, include the notes, glosses, essays, and other features of the print editions.

Plays are displayed in Folger Digital Texts with the same page numbers as in the Folger Shakespeare Library print editions to allow the two to be easily used together.



What teacher resources are available from the Folger?


The Teach and Learn section of the Folger Shakespeare Library website includes extensive K-12 resources, including a large, searchable collection of teacher-tested lesson plans, video and audio podcasts, online activities for kids, and much more.


Folger Education also produces a Shakespeare teaching blog, stages student Shakespeare festivals, teaches an in-depth institute for teachers, and offers off-site workshops, among many other programs. Learn more about all of these Folger Education resources and programs at Teach and Learn.


You can also find curriculum guides for many of the plays at the Simon and Schuster Teaching Resources page for the Folger editions.


Simon and Schuster also publishes the Folger's Shakespeare Set Free, edited by Peggy O’Brien, former Head of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library and founder of the Folger's Teaching Shakespeare Institute.  Three volumes are available:


Volume I: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Volume II: Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1

Volume III: Twelfth Night and Othello.



If I have a question not answered here, how may I contact you?


E-mail your questions to us at editions@folger.edu.


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