The First Folio

Without the First Folio, half of Shakespeare’s plays might have been lost forever. Learn more about this remarkable book, published in 1623.

What is a Shakespeare First Folio?

The 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare is the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s plays, published seven years after his death in 1616. Of the 36 plays assembled by his friends and fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell, eighteen were being published for the first time. Learn more about the First Folio and its historical importance.

The Folger’s First Folios

The Folger Shakespeare Library has 82 copies of the First Folio, the largest collection in the world. Of an estimated original print run of about 750 copies, only 235 are known to survive.
In 2016, to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger sent 18 of its First Folios on a tour of the United States. More than half a million people saw this traveling exhibition, First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, at public libraries, universities, museums, and other venues in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC. Meet the 18 Folger First Folios from the tour, learn about their history, and read some of the stories from their travels.

Read a First Folio

A full digital version of one of the Folger's First Folios (no. 68) can be viewed in our book reader, or in our digital image collection for downloading.

Printing the First Folio

How was the First Folio made? The Folger has created a teaching tool called DIY First Folio for understanding the printing process. This visually rich narrative of the First Folio's 1623 printing features interactive exercises that allow users to fold and unfold Folio sheets, create play gatherings, and print high-resolution facsimile images of pages from the First Folio. DIY First Folio was created with the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

More First Folio Resources

The Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast has produced multiple episodes about the First Folio and related topics:

How Shakespeare’s First Folio Became a Star

Adam Hooks and Daniel De Simone chart the rise of the First Folio—how and when this book became a cultural icon with such a dizzying price tag.

Creating Shakespeare’s First Folio

Emma Smith offers an intimate, step-by-step examination of 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.

The Millionaire and the Bard

Andrea Mays talks about some of the fascinating financial and personal details of Henry Folger's life, and in particular, how he went about collecting so many First Folios.

A New First Folio Discovery

Eric Rasmussen, who authenticated the discovery of a new First Folio in 2014, shares fascinating stories and observations about one of the world's most iconic rare books. 

Inside the Folger Conservation Lab

To celebrate 400 years of Shakespeare in 2016, 18 of the Folger's First Folios toured the United States. Go behind the scenes with the conservators who prepared the books for travel.

Editing Shakespeare

Paul Werstine and Suzanne Gossett talk about editing Shakespeare and why the First Folio is considered such a foundational text.

Portraits of Shakespeare

The Droeshout engraving in the First Folio is considered one of the few authentic portraits of Shakespeare. Katherine Duncan-Jones explains why.

The Book of Will

Lauren Gunderson discusses her play about John Heminges and Henry Condell, their families, and everyone involved in gathering and creating the First Folio.