The Elizabethan age, the Spanish Siglo de oro, France’s Grand siècle, these classic periods boast a wealth of publishing treasures. The First Folio edition of Shakespeare, the first edition of his Sonnets, and extremely rare quarto editions of his major plays are standout works in an age that gave the world so many priceless books. For Spain, copies of Cervantes, Calderón, Lope de Vega, La Celestina, and La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes form a remarkable group of extremely rare editions. The century of Louis XIV, the Sun King, with its importance to French culture, is the occasion to highlight a Molière collection that harbors an extraordinary wealth of materials, not to mention Bossuet’s Sermons, La Fontaine’s Fables, and the great playwright Racine.
Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies – First Folio
London, Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount 1623
“Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe”
(Preface by John Heminges and Henry Condell)
It is said of the First Folio that along with the King James Bible, which saw print a few years earlier, it is the most important book ever published in English.
It contains all of the 36 plays attributed to William Shakespeare (excepting the works written in collaboration with others); 18 of them, including Macbeth, The Tempest, Measure for Measure, and The Winter’s Tale, for example, were printed there for the very first time and have no other source than this folio edition, which appeared 7 years after the playwright’s death.
John Heminges and Henry Condell, two actors from the King’s Men, the troupe to which Shakespeare belonged, established the texts of the plays based on manuscript copies that were meant for the actors, or the author’s working notes recopied by professional scribes.
The famous portrait engraved by Martin Droeshout the Younger and printed as the frontispiece of the volume gives the mysterious playwright a face. This is significant since no likeness of Shakespeare that was done during his lifetime has come down to us.
Of the approximately 750 copies of the First Folio that were initially printed (and sold unbound for 15 shillings apiece), nearly 220 are accounted for today. Not one exactly resembles any of the others. As was the custom in English books printed before the 18th century, typographical errors and misprints were corrected during the printing process.