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Readers, Collectors, and Stars

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Readers, Collectors, and Stars

In the years immediately following its printing, the First Folio was not significantly more important than other literary works of its time, but it quickly gained importance. It was carefully read, altered, and adapted in the seventeenth century—especially in the Folio’s first decade and again at the end of the seventeenth century. Many First Folios have interesting annotations, including some that alter the text and others that mark up plays for performance. The fact that the First Folio was followed by the Second Folio in less than a decade demonstrates how much it was in demand.

Shakespeare. Works. London, 1623.

The image above is taken from a copy of the First Folio at Kodama Library, Meisei University, in Tokyo, Japan. The marginal notes, dating possibly as early as the 1620s, take up much of the available white space on the page and throughout the volume, giving a sense of the annotator’s close attention to the text. Starting in the early eighteenth century, the editing of Shakespeare became a major industry. Many Shakespeare editors owned a First Folio and used it to create new editions. Because there are no existing manuscripts of the plays, one cannot get nearer to Shakespeare’s original words than what’s printed in the First Folio; for this reason and others, close attention to the original text of the First Folio continues to this day.


By the mid-eighteenth century, Shakespeare’s reputation as a playwright had grown enormously. This was due in part to the efforts of David Garrick (1717-79), the actor, director, and theater manager who produce the famous “Shakespeare Jubilee” of 1769. Shakespeare’s reputation grew alongside a passion for book collecting among the wealthy, and the Shakespeare First Folio quickly became a must-have for collectors.

12 First Folios at Kodama Memorial library Meisei Univeristy, Tokyo.

Charles Michel Geoffroy. Eminent commentators and editors of Shakspeare's works. Print, 19th century

Robert Cooper after Robert Edge Pine. David Garrick esqr. Print, 1817

Learn More

"A Brief Introduction to David Garrick" by Kalman A. Burnim

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