On Permanent Display: A First Folio of Shakespeare


A First Folio of Shakespeare—accompanied by a touchscreen display—is on permanent display. Printed in the large “folio” size, the First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. It was put together after his death in 1616 by two fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, and was published in 1623. The First Folio is the only source for 18 of the plays, including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, and As You Like It, all of which might otherwise have been lost.

Using the touchscreen on display, visitors can digitally leaf through the Folio to see front and back matter as as well as Romeo and Juliet. The page-by-page software also allows visitors to zoom in for a closer look and view expert commentary.

The Folgers acquired this particular First Folio in 1897 as part of their first acquisition of an extensive collection, the Warwick Castle Library. The Earl of Warwick assembled his library between about 1852 and 1870 with the help of J.O. Halliwell-Phillipps, an important Shakespeare scholar and collector. This copy is especially fine because the title and verse page are both original, just as they were printed in 1623. Many other surviving copies of the First Folio have verse and title pages that are repaired or that have been replaced with facsimiles. The Folger holds 82 copies of the First Folio, about a third of those still in existence, and is by far the largest collection in the world.

Related Exhibition

In 2016, First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare will bring the First Folio to all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. The exhibition, which also includes panels, digital content, and local events, exclusively features First Folios from the Folger. Find the closest tour location to you.

Curated by Folger staff.

Meet the Curator

Curated by Folger staff.