The First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays and the foundation of Shakespeare’s enduring legacy and reputation. When Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, a rich and successful poet and playwright lauded by his contemporaries, only about half of his works had appeared in print. Fourteen plays had been published as pamphlets in inexpensive quarto editions containing texts of reasonably good quality, but four plays had only appeared as unauthorized “bad” quartos, maligned for their abridged, paraphrased and/or corrupted texts, in part reconstructed from memory by actors involved in contemporary productions. Eighteen plays—including The Tempest, Macbeth, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, and Julius Caesar—remained unpublished in any form. The First Folio thus not only gives us their first appearance in print, but it also preserves these plays for posterity. Scholars estimate that about four-fifths of plays performed during this time have been lost, and Shakespeare’s plays might well have suffered the same fate had it not been for the collaborative efforts of his friends and fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, and the publishers Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount. Together, those four formed an ambitious publishing venture in hopes of both profiting from the continued popularity of Shakespeare’s plays and preserving the legacy of the man himself.
EDITING AND PRINTING THE FIRST FOLIO
Jaggard and Blount were both well-established printers and stationers with years of experience between them. Whether the idea to publish a collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays originated with the publishers or with Heminges and Condell is not known. However, we do know that Isaac Jaggard’s father, the printer William Jaggard, had made an abortive attempt in 1619 to reprint several plays of Shakespeare with the help of his fellow printer and bookseller Thomas Pavier. Shakespeare’s own acting company, The King’s Men, held exclusive rights to most of the Bard’s plays and attempted to block this plan, but Jaggard and Pavier were nevertheless able to illicitly issue several quartos with false dates in what scholars now refer to as the “False Folio” affair. Despite this tawdry episode, the King’s Men maintained their relationship with the Jaggards, who continued to print the company’s playbills and became the go-to printers for the First Folio.
William Shakespeare’s will referred to John Heminges and Henry Condell as “my fellows” and bequeathed 26 shillings and eight pence to each. They were actors in the King’s Men and shareholders in the Globe Theatre, eventually buying enough of a stake to own half the theater between them. As editors of the Folio, Heminges and Condell were responsible for preparing the best and most accurate texts possible and providing these to the printers. As members of the King’s Men they had access to various kinds of manuscripts—authorial, scribal, and theatrical—including actors’ part-scripts, prompt-books, and so-called “foul papers,” the pre-production working drafts of Shakespeare’s plays. For those plays that had already been printed in reliable quarto editions, the two editors collated and revised the printed texts against annotated copies and manuscripts. In their preface to the First Folio, Heminges and Condell summarize their editorial work as follows: “It has been a thing, we confess, worthy to have been wished, that the Author himself had lived to have set forth, and overseen his own writings. But since it hath been ordained otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envy his friends, the office of their care, and pain, to have collected & published them, as where (before), you were abused with the diverse stolen, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealths of injurious imposters, that exposed them: even those, are now offered to your view cured, and perfect of their limbs; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them.”
The production of Shakespeare’s Folio began in early 1622 in Jaggard’s printing establishment at the sign of the Half Eagle and Key in Barbican, right outside the city walls. It continued with at least two interruptions as the firm engaged in other book projects until November 1623, when the first issue of the Folio was completed. Charlton Hinman, in his classic 1963 monograph on the printing of the First Folio, distinguished the work of five compositors, each designated with a letter of the alphabet, working from two different typecases. Compositor “B” set almost half the pages of the Folio and was probably the resident journeyman printer of the firm. He also supervised the work of others, specifically that of compositor “E,” who has been identified as the teenage apprentice John Leason of Hurley, Hampshire. Peter Blayney later identified at least nine compositors, each imposing their own spelling and punctuation preferences on the text.
The famous portrait of Shakespeare which adorns the title-page was engraved by Martin Droeshout (1601-c.1650). It is the first published likeness of William Shakespeare and easily the best one to be authenticated by those who knew him personally. The only other such authenticated portrait is the rather crude funerary bust in the choir of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, erected within six years of Shakespeare’s death and perhaps commissioned by his son-in-law, John Hall. The First Folio portrait appears opposite the verse of Shakespeare’s friend and most accomplished rival, Ben Jonson. Jonson would elsewhere say of Shakespeare, “I loved the man and do honor his memory on this side idolatry as much as any.” Here, he endorses Droeshout’s engraving with a verse: “O, could he but have drawn his wit / As well in brass, as he hath his / His face, the Print would then surpass / All, that was ever done in brass.” The portrait and Jonson’s verse are on the first two leaves of the First Folio, and they are the two which are most frequently found wanting in surviving copies.
Publishing dramatic works in the large-sized folio format was in itself a daring choice. Writing in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s First Folio, Tara Lyons and Eric Rasmussen note that few literary works by contemporary authors received the folio treatment before 1623. Quarto was the typical format for literature—especially drama—printed in the period. Folio remained a prestige format reserved for works deemed to possess superior merit or permanent value, like law books or theological treatises. As Blayney remarks, “What made the Folio’s eventual success uncertain was that at a price of about fifteen shillings … it was by far the most expensive playbook that had ever been offered to the English public.”
While the printing was underway, Jaggard and Blount continued negotiating for the rights to quarto texts held by other publishers. They made sufficient progress to announce the Folio’s upcoming publication in the Frankfurt Book Fair catalogue of April-October 1622. The negotiation of rights to Troilus and Cressida was prolonged, causing the printers to pause and then restart its composition, resulting in the complications of cancellation and the distinction of three issues of the First Folio (see "Issues and Variants" below). Two printers who owned publication rights to some of the plays, John Smethwick and William Apsley, chose to join the publishing venture as shareholders along with Jaggard and Blount rather than sell reprinting rights. For unknown reasons, the publishers omitted the co-authored Pericles, which was owned by Pavier and not reprinted until the second issue of the Third Folio of 1664. Two other plays that are also partly attributed to Shakespeare, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Sir Thomas More, were similarly excluded.
The final issue of the First Folio included thirty-six plays. Of these, eighteen plays had never before appeared in print: The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Measure for Measure, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, All’s Well That Ends Well, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, King John, Henry VI part 1, Henry VIII, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and Cymbeline. None of the reprinted plays in the First Folio show corrupted or mutilated texts from “bad” quartos. Five plays were set from a good quarto edition alone, and a further half dozen are the result of quarto texts that the editors collated against play manuscripts and/or hand-corrected quartos. Romeo and Juliet relies on multiple printed quartos. The remaining plays were newly edited either from complete manuscripts or a combination of extensive manuscript material and “bad” quartos.
Were it not for the First Folio, only six of Shakespeare’s plays would exist in the form we know them today, being less than a third of Shakespeare’s Comedies, only one of the Histories, and only one of the Tragedies. This count excludes the three plays of doubtful authorship published later.
The First Folio was a sufficient commercial success, so much so that the Second Folio went into production in 1632. The First Folio served as a printer’s copy for the Second, and the Third (1663-64) was set from the Second with the addition of seven plays, of which only Pericles is now considered authentic. The Fourth Folio (1685) was a simple reprinting of the Third. The First Folio is considered textually superior to its successors, as has been recognized since the 18th century.
COLLECTING THE FIRST FOLIO
The First Folio was a luxury acquisition from its inception. When it appeared in bookshops in late 1623, unbound copies sold for 15 shillings and bound copies for £1—equivalent to three-months wages for a skilled tradesman. The total edition, probably about 750 copies, was a sufficient enough commercial success that the Second Folio went into production in 1632. As new single-volume editions of Shakespeare’s works—the Second (1632), Third (1663-64), and Fourth (1685) Folios—became available, few early owners recognized the value of the First. Indeed, private owners may have treated their First Folios as the Bodleian Library did, when it famously sold its copy in 1663 or 1664 to make room for the newly published Third Folio.
The ascendance of the First Folio largely began in the second half of the 18th century, stimulated by the bicentennial of Shakespeare’s birth. His works attracted renewed editorial attention, leading to Samuel Johnson strongly affirming the textual primacy of the First Folio. He wrote in his 1765 edition of the plays that the First Folio “is equivalent to all others, and the rest only deviate from it by the printer’s negligence.” Edward Capell’s 1768 edition of Shakespeare mostly followed Johnson in this prioritization. The great Shakespearean actor David Garrick orchestrated a three-day jubilee extravaganza at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1769, sparking Shakespeare mania and bringing renewed attention to the Bard's works. Shortly thereafter, the Irishman Edmond Malone (1741-1812) left his law practice to devote himself to literature, moving to London and befriending Samuel Johnson. Malone’s 1778 essay, “An Attempt to Ascertain the Order in which the Plays attributed to Shakspeare were Written,” was the first scholarly effort to provide a chronology—a task which still engrosses readers today. Malone’s great erudition and his seemingly inexhaustible attention to detail were a match even for Johnson’s chosen successor to oversee his Shakespeare edition, George Steevens. In 1790 Malone published his own edition, again affirming the superiority of the First Folio, and was met with enormous popular and critical success.
The renewed interest of the late 18th century ushered in a reverence for the First Folio itself which has not abated. Eight copies of the First Folio sold in the 1790s for an average price of about £30—thirty times its original price in 1623. During the 19th century the price jumped further, from an average of about £60 in the first half of the century to £290 in the second half. Complete copies like the present one were now in scarce supply, and, according to Blayney, “both booksellers and collectors were attempting to assemble new ‘copies’ from miscellaneous collections of single leaves in every imaginable condition.” Legendary collectors like Henry Clay Folger of New York, a chairman of Standard Oil, continued to drive prices steeply upwards in the early 20th century. In many ways, Folger’s activity marked the advent of Shakespeare collecting as a global phenomenon. There are now more copies outside of the United Kingdom than in it. However, although Shakespeare’s standing as a leading light of world literature is unquestioned, the census records only five First Folios outside of the United States, Europe, or Japan. There are none at all in Russia, Latin America or anywhere in mainland Asia.
Rasmussen and West’s 2012 census of First Folios accounts for 232 copies. Three previously unrecorded incomplete copies have surfaced since then, revising the figure to 235. Because many of the recorded First Folios are sophisticated copies—i.e., with evidence of leaves supplied from other copies or other editions—it is impossible to know how many distinct copies are represented within the figure of 235. The vast majority of First Folios are held by institutions in the United States (140 copies, 82 of those at the Folger Shakespeare Library) and the United Kingdom (36 copies).
Only 56 copies—including the present—are complete, and of those only five are in private hands.
Imperfect or fragmentary copies of the First Folio occasionally appear on the market, but the present auction represents the first opportunity to acquire a complete copy since October 2001, when the Abel E. Berland copy set an auction record at Christie’s New York. For the present First Folio, even more remarkable than its completeness is that it shows no evidence of supplied leaves, i.e. sophistication. Copies of the First Folio were already being “perfected” with supplied leaves at the time this copy was bound and even earlier—the turn of the 19th century is known as a golden age of English bibliomania and the practice was common. This background makes the presence of the letter by Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone about this copy all the more significant.
Preserved with the volume is a letter by Edmond Malone (1741-1812) to the then current owner: Autograph Letter Signed (“Edmond Malone”) to John Fuller of Devonshire Place, London, 17 January 1809. Two pages, 373 x 225mm, bifolium.
Malone affirmed this First Folio as “undoubtedly the genuine first folio edition” and “a fine copy” in terms of cleanness. He makes recommendations for repairs to the title and E6, and suggests a bookbinder. Two centuries later, Malone’s handsome letter is still with the Folio, and the Folio itself shows no evidence of washing or repairs made after the ones that Edmond Malone recommended.
The extraordinary rarity of a copy attested to in detail by a Shakespeare scholar over 200 years ago cannot be overstated.
Bound in London circa 1810 apparently by Thomas Gosden: diced russia tooled in blind, sides paneled with rolls, arabesque ornaments at corners, spine tooled in compartments and lettered in gilt, single fillet on board edges and turn-ins, gray endpapers, laid paper endleaves. Crimson pull-off case by Riviere. If, as seems highly likely, Malone’s advice was followed and the book was delivered to Thomas Gosden (1780-1840), bookbinder in St. Martin’s Lane, to “give your Shakespeare a very handsome and proper clothing,” it is one of the few known examples of Gosden’s non-sporting work (cf. Nixon and Foot, History of Decorated Bookbinding in England, 1992, p. 101, for additional references).
Median folio (306 x 203mm). Complete: 454 leaves, see collation below. Roman and italic types 82mm, larger cursive for running titles, set by at least nine compositors. Double column, 66 lines, headlines and catchwords, pages box-ruled, woodcut head- and tail-pieces and initials.
Preliminary leaves: A6 (1+1, 5+?2) = 9 leaves (A1r blank, A1v Ben Jonson’s verses “To the Reader,” A1+1r title with engraved portrait by Martin Droeshout, verso blank, A2 editors’ dedication to the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, A3r editors’ address to the reader, verso blank, A4 Ben Jonson’s verses “To the memory of my beloved, The Author,” A5r Hugh Holland’s verses “Upon the Lines and Life of the Famous Scenicke Poet,” verso blank, ?1r verses “To the Memorie of the deceased Authour” by L. Digges and I.M., verso blank, ?2r actors’ names, verso blank, A6r "A Catalogue" list of plays, verso blank), ?2 interpolated between A5 and A6;
Comedies: A-Z6 Aa-Bb6 Cc2 (A1r The Tempest, B4v The Two Gentlemen of Verona, D2r The Merry Wives of Windsor, F1r Measure, For Measure, H1r The Comedie of Errors, I3r Much adoe about Nothing, L1v Loves Labour’s lost, N1r A Midsommer Nights Dreame, O4r The Merchant of Venice, Q3r As you Like it, S2v The Taming of the Shrew, V1v All's Well, that Ends Well, Y2r Twelfe Night, Or what you will, Z6v blank, Aa1r The Winters Tale, Cc2v blank);
Histories: a-g6 gg8 h-v6 x4 (a1r The life and death of King Iohn, b6r The life and death of King Richard the Second, d5v The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry Sirnamed Hot-spurre, f6v The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, Containing his Death: and the Coronation of King Henry the Fift, gg8r Epilogue, gg8v The Actors Names, h1r The Life of Henry the Fift, k2v The first Part of Henry the Sixt, m2v The second Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Good Duke Humfrey, o4r The third Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Duke of Yorke, q5r The Tragedy of Richard the Third: with the Landing of Earle Richmond, and the Battell at Bosworth Field, t3r The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight); and
Tragedies: ?1 (=±gg3) 2?1 (=gg4) ¶-¶¶6 ¶¶¶1 aa-ff6 gg4 (±3=?1, 4=2?1) Gg6 hh6 kk-zz6 aaa-bbb6 (?1r The Prologue, verso The Tragedie of Troylus and Cressida, ¶¶¶1v blank, aa1r The Tragedy of Coriolanus, cc4r The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, ee3r The Tragedie of Romeo and Iuliet, Gg1v The Life of Tymon of Athens, hh6r The Actors Names, verso blank, kk1r The Tragedie of Iulius Caesar, ll6r The Tragedie of Macbeth, nn4v The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, qq2r The Tragedie of King Lear, ss3v The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice, vv6v The Tragedie of Anthonie, and Cleopatra, zz3r The Tragedie of Cymbeline, bbb6r colophon, verso blank).
ISSUES AND VARIANTS
The present copy of the First Folio belongs to the third issue, complete with Troilus and Cressida and its prologue. Only three copies of the first issue and four copies of the second issue survive, all in institutional collections. As is generally true of ambitious books with handset type, no two copies of the First Folio are identical. Hinman recorded hundreds of press variants on many dozens of pages, particularly in the Tragedies. They represent stop-press corrections of errors spotted after proofs of the two-page forms had been read; the apprentice compositor designated “E” was especially prone to making new mistakes while correcting, and his work was more frequently checked during the press-run than that of the others. In practice, no attention was paid to the state of the sheets as they were gathered, with the result that corrected sheets were indiscriminately distributed among copies. A review of this copy shows that six pages are in the uncorrected state (D2, d1, m3, cc5, ll2v, and ll5), and one page is in the third state (qq2v).
In the present copy, the engraved portrait of Shakespeare by Droeshout on the title-page is in the third state. In the first state, Shakespeare’s head appeared to float above the ruff, so the plate was modified to add shading below the left ear (the second state). The plate was then modified again, this time making minor changes to the hair and the glint of the eyes (the third state as here).
1. Early annotations: “of Troylus & Cressida” added to Contents leaf in a 17th-century hand; an early hand (mis)corrects Sylvia to Julia on C6 of The Two Gentlemen of Verona; numerous underlinings.
2. John Fuller: laid-in letter from Edmond Malone dated 7 January 1809. The first recorded owner of this copy of the First Folio is John “Mad Jack” Fuller (1757-1834) of Brightling, Sussex, who in early 1809 communicated with the great Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone regarding his book. Fuller was the wealthy proprietor of estates in Sussex and plantations in Jamaica that he inherited from a rich uncle, and for many years he served as a member of Parliament in the House of Commons. He was also a patron of the arts—he commissioned work from J.M.W. Turner—and a life-long benefactor of the Royal Institution, which he endowed with professorships of electricity and comparative anatomy and physiology. Whether Fuller was still in possession of the First Folio at the time of his death in 1834 is unknown, as there is no record of its whereabouts or sale for over a century. Most likely it passed to one of the two nephews who inherited the bulk of Fuller’s estate, either Sir Peregrine Palmer Acland, Bart. (1789-1871), who was left properties in London; or to Augustus Elliot Fuller (1777-1857), who inherited the Sussex estates and Jamaica plantations (see Fuller obituary, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, July 1834, pp. 106-107). The Palmer Acland branch of the family sold property at several Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions from 1897 to 1933, but never a First Folio. If the family sold the book during these decades, they did so privately or anonymously.
3. with Bernard Quaritch Ltd, London: exhibitor to Festival of Britain Exhibition of Books, 1951, bookplate; sold in 1961 to:
4. Allan I. Bluestein (1900-1982). Bluestein was a real estate investor based in Washington, D.C. Shortly after he bought this copy, he donated a lesser one to Brandeis University, which has since been digitized. This copy sold at his sale, Sotheby’s New York, 1 April 1976, lot 64, bought by:
5. Warren Howell, John Howell Books, San Francisco, sold to:
6. James E. and Mary Louise O’Brien, class of 1934, of Palo Alto. The O’Briens acquired it from Howell in 1977 and donated it to Mills College in the same year in honor of Mary Louise's father, Dr. Elias Olan James (1879-1954). James had been Professor Emeritus of English at the college and known for his popular courses in Shakespeare and modern poetry.
7. Mills College, Oakland, California (current owner). Mills College is the oldest undergraduate college for women in the Western United States, founded in 1852.
“Festival of Britain, Exhibition of Books,” Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 5 May to 30 September 1951, no. 318 (exhibition bookplate). This copy of the First Folio was the one selected for the Festival of Britain’s Exhibition of Books in the summer of 1951. Organized for the centennial of the Crystal Palace Exhibition and just six years after the end of World War II, the Festival of Britain was a grand national effort devoted to British achievements in all fields. It took place at various sites across the United Kingdom and attracted millions of visitors, being one of the most ambitious and effective morale-boosters organized for post-War Britain. The books exhibition was billed in the catalogue as “the largest and most representative loan collection of first editions in English literature put before the public." At the time of the Festival, this First Folio was lent by the antiquarian bookseller Bernard Quaritch, Ltd.
The overall clean and sound condition which Malone commended two hundred years ago is still evident today. A detailed condition report is as follows: the first leaf inlaid and repaired with several letters reinforced; title-page repaired and mounted, with some hatching in the engraving repaired, E, S and part of R in “Shakespeares” replaced and the other letters strengthened in ink; A2 with neat tear just into headpiece and a repaired marginal tear at foot; 2 leaves (A3 and D2) 1mm short; E6 and t3 discreetly repaired at lower corner with a few letters replaced; M3 extended at extreme lower margin, O2 with tiny hole affecting one letter; rule at top of about 12 leaves shaved; small, minor spot in a number of leaves; light smudge in one leaf, final leaf remargined and repaired with part of rule replaced. The binding shows minor wear and repairs at hinges and extremities.
Blayney, Peter W.M. The First Folio of Shakespeare. Washington, D.C., 1991.
Greg, Walter Wilson. The Editorial Problem in Shakespeare: A Survey of the Foundations of the Text. Oxford, 1967.
Greg, Walter Wilson. The Shakespeare First Folio: Its Bibliographical and Textual History. Oxford, 1955.
Hinman, Charlton. The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare. Oxford, 1963.
Lee, Sidney. Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies: A Census of Extant Copies. Oxford, 1902.
Lee, Sidney. Notes & Additions to the Census of Copies of the Shakespeare First Folio. Oxford, 1906.
Martin, Peter. Edmond Malone, Shakespearean Scholar: A Literary Biography. Cambridge, 1995.
Pollard, A.W. Shakespeare Folios and Quartos: A Study in the Bibliography of Shakespeare’s Plays. London, 1909.
Rasmussen, Eric, and West, Anthony James. The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Catalogue. Houndmills, 2012. The present copy is no. 50.
Smith, Emma. Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book. Oxford, 2016.
Smith, Emma. The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Oxford, 2016.
Smith, Emma, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s First Folio. Cambridge, 2016.
West, Anthony James. The Shakespeare First Folio. The History of the Book. Oxford, 2001.