A comprehensive description of the First Folio
The "First Folio" is of major importance to William Shakespeare as it is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays without which there would be no William Shakespeare. This section is therefore entirely dedicated to information about this important document - commonly referred to as The First Folio. Click the following link for information about the Droeshout Engraving the picture of William Shakespeare which appears on the First Folio. This famous picture on the First Folio is shown above. Publishers used the ' First Folio ' to print copies of the plays. Other Folios were printed in 1632, 1663, 1664 and 1685.
What did the First Folio contain?
The First Folio contained approximately 900 pages containing 36 of William Shakespeare's plays. It was entitled "Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories & Tragedies". The front cover of the First Folio, as shown in the picture at the top of this page, displayed a copper engraved image of Shakespeare by the engraver Martin Droeshout. It must be remembered that during William Shakespeare's era that only engravings could be used to illustrate such documents, it was not possible to reproduce paintings of portraits. The First Folio excluded 'Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen'. The second printing of the 1663 folio included the first publication of Pericles, Prince of Athens.
Who was responsible for compiling play collection?
William Shakespeare's fellow actors, John Hemminge and Henry Condell, were the editors of the collection. The plays were categorised as Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. William Shakespeare mentioned both actors in his will "my fellows John Hemynges Richard Burbage & Henry Cundell," leaving them 26s..8d to "buy them Ringes." It is therefore not surprising that they were involved with the publication of the First Folio. They, no doubt, had copies of the plays in Quarto text in the format of Fair or Foul copies. It was from these that content of the First Folio would have originated.
Who was the First Folio dedicated to?
The First Folio was dedicated to William and Philip, the sons of the Earl of Pembroke and Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke
Who published the First Folio?
The Printer and Publisher of the First Folio was William Jaggard and his son Isaac with Ed. Blount. Printing the collection of the First Folio must have been a massive task as it consisted of 36 plays and over 900 pages. The manuscripts needed to have been written in such a way that the content of each play, and each page of the play, were kept in a strict order during the printing process. During this era there were no copyright laws but printers could ensure that others could not print books that they had rights to by entering them in the Stationers' Register. The content of the First Folio was registered on 8th November 1623. Registration also provided an opportunity to invoke a form of censorship and the means to suppress too much freedom of thought and criticism of the crown and public affairs. Approximately 500 copies of the ' First Folio ' were printed at the price of £1 for each copy. Approximately 238 known copies exist today of which a third are in the Shakespeare Folger Library in Washington. The First Folio was printed seven years after the death of William Shakespeare in 1616. Several further editions of William Shakespeare's works were published in the course of time.
William Shakespeare never published his plays
William Shakespeare never authorised the publication or printing of any of his own plays. Plays were sold by the playwright to the acting company i.e. William Shakespeare would have sold his plays to the Chamberlain's Men, later called the King's Men. There was huge rivalry between the acting troupes and because there was no such thing as copyright in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries playwrights and theatrical troupes tried to keep their plays out of print. Any rival troupe who managed to obtain a copy of a play - see information about quarto editions - and bring it to production would seriously impact the profits made by the originating troupe! Therefore, any plays were produced prior to any printing. The other catch of course was that any printed versions became the property of the printers! The printers would buy the manuscript from The playwright, Theatre troupe, or even an individual who had obtained or reproduced a copy of the text with or without the authorization of the playwright.
Manuscripts by William Shakespeare? The First Folio
Not one manuscript written by William Shakespeare has survived. Elizabethan Playwrights would often first produce drafts of plays for the actors (these are often referred to a ' foul papers '). They might also provide actors with a prompt book. Prior to printing, plays in the format of ' Foul Papers ' or ' Fair Papers' (clearer copies), which had been produced by the author would be given to scribes to transcribe. This ensured that manuscripts requiring printing contained clear handwriting ( Fair Copies ). It was essential for printers to set the type correctly before they embarked on the printing process. The name of this type of manuscript was called a folio. The scribe attributed to producing the manuscripts of William Shakespeare's plays was called Ralph Crane and the 1623 collection of William Shakespeare's plays was called the 'First Folio', for obvious reasons.
The Huge Demand for Plays! Plagiarism! Quarto Texts!
Plays were big!! There was money to be made!! There was a constant demand for new material!! Rivalry between the Playhouses was enormous!! As soon as a play had been written it was immediately produced - printing followed productions! So the actors initially used ' foul papers ' or prompts. Rival theatre companies would send their members to attend plays to produce unauthorised copies of plays - notes were made and copied as quickly as possible. Alternative versions of plays were produced! These unauthorised and inferior text copies of William Shakespeare's plays are called Quarto Texts.
Manuscripts - A Quarto
A Quarto is a sheet of paper folded in half and then in half again - thus creating four quarto sections. The reverse of the paper was also used for writing giving eight sections in all. Each of these eight sections would be used as a page. The text on a Quarto was very basic with some stage directions but did not include the detail of a First Folio page. These are referred to as Quarto Texts.
Manuscripts - A Folio
A Folio is made up of ' quires ' i.e. 6 leafs of paper folded in half with text on both sides, thus giving twelve pages which are eventually sewn together. Folio pages contain 'rule lines' which divide the page into two columns, some text ornaments on first letters of pages, some scene and act divisions. Some page numbers are included on the top of the page but the order of pages are confirmed on the bottom of the page by the 'signature' which consists of the quire letter (A-Z) the leaf number (1-6) and the side of the leaf (R or V) recto or verso a typical 'signature' might therefore read B4V. A 'Catchword' is also displayed on the bottom right hand side of each page which consists of the first word of text to appear on the next page of the play.
Variations due to Quarto Text - Foul Papers
The are many variations to the text of many early editions of Shakespeare's plays. Eighteen of the William Shakespeare plays exist in earlier quarto editions, eight of which quarto editions are extremely corrupt, possibly having been reconstructed from an actor's memory or from rough drafts or ' Foul Papers ' and obviously drafted in quarto text prior to the First Folio. Printers also sold their products and often made changes to appeal to potential customers, paying little concern to the author's views on any changes! The Two Noble Kinsmen rarely appear in modern Published Editions of the works of William Shakespeare.
The Martin Droeshout Engraving - The Picture on the First Folio
The engraving of the Bard's image on the First Folio is the subject of much debate and controversy. The copper-engraving picture of William Shakespeare is signed Martin Droeshout on the title-page of the
‘ First Folio ’ (1623). It must be remembered that during Shakespeare's era that only engravings could be used to illustrate such documents, it was not possible to reproduce paintings of portraits. So why the controversy ? Take a look at the image on the title-page of the ‘ First Folio ’ of the at the top of the page. At first glance it reflects our view of what Shakespeare probably looked like. But take a second look at the title-page of the ‘ First Folio ’ - the face is out of proportion - the clothes are wrong - the body looks like that of a child and there are other mysteries attached to the First Folio...
Click the following links for information about the Droeshout Engraving and the picture of William Shakespeare on the First Folio.
Mystery of the Engraving on the First Folio - Martin Droeshout engraved portrait of William Shakespeare - Identity Problem
The Identity and Authorship problem surrounding William Shakespeare - the Clues, the contemporaries and Contenders
A comprehensive description of the First Folio - plays by William Shakespeare