THE FIRST FOLIO EDITION OF THE PLAYS  1623

Our collection does not contain a copy of this monumentally important book. Yet we must tell something about the First Folio so that it can stand in its proper relationship to the Shakespeare publications in this exhibit, particularly the Second Folio (1632), the Third Folio (1665) and the Fourth Folio (1685).

After Shakespeare’s death in 1616, and until 1619 when Thomas Pavier arranged with William Jaggard to print ten plays attributed to Shakespeare (two of which were really not his), there had been no Shakespeare publications.  Shakespeare’s popularity had been waning at this time, eclipsed by Beaumont and Fletcher among others, and his death had failed to spark its immediate resurgence. But while Pavier’s editions were based on deficient and partly corrupt texts they nonetheless represent a first effort to assemble a collected edition of the plays.

Fortunately, early in 1622, a joint venture of printers set out to publish the first collected edition of the plays, which we have come to know as the First Folio. This would entail complex, time consuming, and expensive processes of assembling rights, editing, and printing the texts of 36 plays in what would become a volume of more than 900 double columned pages. To this were added the now familiar engraved portrait by Martin Droeshout, some prefatory epistles and commendatory verse. It is estimated that about 1000 copies were printed.  They were priced at 1.  About 238 copies are known to have survived down to our time but many are quite dilapidated and imperfect.

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