In November 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare had died at his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, a book containing 36 of his plays was published in London. The book was a large folio (a format with pages about as wide as those of a modern encyclopedia, but two or three inches taller). Nothing quite like it had ever been published in folio before.
The folio format was usually reserved for works of reference and for the collected writings of important authors. Plays written for the public theaters, however, were generally viewed as fairly trivial works of popular entertainment, unworthy of serious consideration as literature. The First Folio of 1623 was not only the first collected edition of Shakespeare—it was the first folio book ever published in England that was devoted exclusively to plays.
Of the plays now accepted as either wholly or partly by Shakespeare, eighteen have survived only because the First Folio was published. It is hardly surprising that the First Folio has been called “incomparably the most important work in the English language.”
Publishers, Players, and Planning |
How Much Did It Cost?
Early Purchasers and Owners |
Henry Folger—The Great Collector
Excerpted and adapted from Peter W. M. Blayney, The First Folio of Shakespeare, © Folger Library Publications, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1991