The Assembling and Printing of the Shakespeare First Folio, 1623


The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC has over eighty copies of the so-called First Folio of Shakespeare, more formally titled Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, published according to their true original copies. London 1623. A large number of these copies will be circulating on tour soon, in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 1616. This seems like a good time to ponder the history of this book. How was it assembled after Shakespeare's death by two of his theater colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell? How complete is it? What sorts of copy did the editors have access to? What is the printing history? What is the cultural and literary importance of this book? How has it shaped what we know about Shakespeare and his reputation? What would we be missing if it had not been published? What role if any did Shakespeare have in its being put together, in view of the fact that it was published seven years after his death? What was Henry Folger's contribution as book collector?