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Shakespeare & Beyond

Shakespeare's First Folio: The playlist

Curious about the book that gave us Shakespeare? We’ve assembled a playlist of seven Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episodes about the First Folio.

Without this first collected edition of Shakespeare’s works, published in 1623, we might not have such famous plays as Macbeth or The Tempest. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, the Folger Shakespeare Library has sent out 18 of its 82 First Folios on a national tour that stops in every state, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC.

If you’re going to see the First Folio at one of its tour stops, or if you’re just interested in learning more about this famous book, this is the playlist for you.

First Folio playlist

1. How Shakespeare’s First Folio Became a Star

This is the latest Shakespeare Unlimited episode about the First Folio, featuring two experts on the First Folio and the book trade who discuss how and when this book became a cultural icon with such a dizzying price tag. Adam Hooks is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Iowa and author of Selling Shakespeare: Biography, Bibliography, and the Book Trade. Dan De Simone is the Folger’s Eric Weinmann Librarian.

2. Creating Shakespeare’s First Folio

Emma Smith is a professor of Shakespeare studies at Oxford and the author of The Making of the First Folio. She authenticated the First Folio that was recently discovered in Scotland. In this podcast episode, she talks about how the First Folio was conceived, how Shakespeare’s plays were gathered, how the rights for them were obtained, how the book was laid out, and – most vividly – how it was assembled and printed.

3. The Millionaire and the Bard

How did the Folger end up with the world’s largest collection of First Folios? Economist Andrea Mays talks about her book, The Millionaire and the Bard, which chronicles Henry Folger’s passionate pursuit of Shakespeare, as he paid record sums to acquire First Folios. He and his wife, Emily, founded the Folger Shakespeare Library.

4. A New First Folio Discovery

When a previously unknown First Folio is discovered, the news makes headlines around the world. Eric Rasmussen, who authenticated a First Folio found in France in 2014, is our guest on this episode. He shares fascinating stories and observations about this remarkable book.

5. Preparing First Folios to Tour the Nation

This podcast episode takes listeners inside the Folger’s conservation lab, where conservators carefully prepared the 18 First Folios for their 2016 journey around the United States. Renate Mesmer, head of conservation at the Folger, leads this behind-the-scenes tour.

6. Editing Shakespeare

How do Shakespeare editors use the First Folio in their work? What happens when the text for a Shakespeare play in the First Folio doesn’t line up with the text found in a quarto? Paul Werstine, co-editor of the Folger Editions, and Suzanne Gossett, co-general-textual editor of The Norton Shakespeare, 3rd Edition, discuss the how and why of editing Shakespeare.

7. Portraits of Shakespeare

One of the most famous portraits of Shakespeare, known as the Droeshout Portrait, appears on the title page of the First Folio. Listen to Oxford University professor Katherine Duncan-Jones discuss this portrait and how it fits in with our understanding of other purported likenesses of Shakespeare.


Interested in more podcast episodes? Discover the entire Shakespeare Unlimited series, available on iTunes, SoundCloud, and NPR One.