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Shakespeare & Beyond

A beautiful Twelfth Night

Folger Finds delivers delightful and insightful moments with the Folger collection. Sarah Hovde, a cataloger at the Folger Shakespeare Library, reveals a 1932 edition of Twelfth Night with beautiful engravings by Eric Ravilious.

Twelfth Night, the last of the twelve days of Christmas, is typically celebrated on January 5 or 6 (sometimes to coincide with the feast of Epiphany). Traditionally, it was a time of feasting and celebration, and also of role reversal, with servants or peasants leading the feast instead of the lord and lady.

Like the holiday, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night features copious celebrations and merriment, sometimes to excess. It also plays on the titular night’s themes of reversal, such as having its protagonist Viola dress as a man. The first performance of Twelfth Night that we know of (thanks to John Manningham, a law student who attended the performance and wrote about it in his diary) took place in February 1602, but it’s possible that there were earlier performances.

Like the majority of Shakespeare’s plays, Twelfth Night was first published in the 1623 First Folio (which may be coming to a city near you this year!), but has been published many times since. The edition below is from 1932, and is a great example of the era of the 20th century private press.


This is also a good example of a book that you would expect to have been in the Folger collection from the beginning, since it was published in 1932, the same year the library opened. In fact, it was purchased at the London Print Fair in April 2013. Back in 1932, Mr. Folger was no longer making purchases (having died two years earlier) and everyone else associated with the institution was too busy getting the library up and running.

Erin Blake — January 5, 2016

Thank you for the information on this beautiful edition! Was it ever reprinted in a less expensive edition?

H. McGuire — January 6, 2020

[…] A beautiful Twelfth Night […]

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