What Is A Shakespeare First Folio?


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The First Folio of William Shakespeare

The First Folio of William Shakespeare

Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.05
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 

After William Shakespeare died in 1616, two of his friends decided to publish his works. Their names were John Heminge and Henry Condell, and they were part of the King’s Men with Shakespeare. They collected his plays and brought them to publishers Edward Blount and Isaac Jaggard, who then began to make the First Folio. The book was completed in 1623.

What we call the “First Folio” is actually titled “Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies.” The term folio refers to the large size of paper, which was usually saved for more important documents like theology, history, and royal proclamations. Half the plays in the First Folio had already been printed as smaller books called quartos. There were different versions of some of the plays. Shakespeare’s friends organized the printing of the First Folio and said they were using the original copies of the plays, but scholars have no way of knowing what exactly Shakespeare wrote. By the time Shakespeare died, he had written at least 38 plays and more than 150 poems!

The image from the title page of the First Folio is called the “Droeshout portrait” because it was made by Martin Droeshout. Shakespeare’s friends approved it, so it must have looked like him. It is one of only two images that we know to be accurate, and the other is the bust of Shakespeare at his grave.

Researchers believe that 750 or fewer copies of the First Folio were printed; 233 survive today, of which 82 are in the Folger collection.