Wednesday, July 11, 2007


11 July 2007
Shakespeare’s First Folio - BL/Shakespeare's Globe Facsimiles

On 12 July, Shakespeare's Globe and the British Library will launch a series of facsimile editions of individual plays from Shakespeare's First Folio, beginning with Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Love's Labour's Lost, the plays that are in repertory at Shakespeare's Globe during its 2007 theatre season.

One of the British Library's five copies of the First Folio has recently been photographed especially for the series. Further facsimiles will be produced to coincide with future Shakespeare's Globe productions.

The First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, one of the most famous books in the world and one of the major attractions in the British Library's Treasures gallery. Published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, by Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount, closely supervised by his friends and fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, the First Folio contains the texts of 36 plays, half of which had not previously been published.

The Folio was a publishing first – the first time a collection exclusively of plays by an English dramatist had been collected and published on Folio size paper – usually reserved for more serious works such as bibles, histories and atlases. Ben Jonson had published his own plays in Folio in 1616 but included poems and classical translations to add intellectual weight to the endeavour.

Heminge and Condell, as fellow shareholders in the Globe Theatre, could provide Jaggard and Blount with some of Shakespeare's “foul papers” or manuscripts and the company's prompt-books for the edition. They sought to preserve Shakespeare's plays for posterity. The First Folio was a major act of commemoration of a man who they described as “a happie imitator of nature and a most gentle expresser of it”. It was the first time that plays such as Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Love's Labour's Lost, and Antony and Cleopatra were made available to the reading public. Without the First Folio, some of these plays may have been lost for all time.

Copies of the First Folio originally sold for one pound each. In 2001 a copy of the First Folio was sold at auction for over £4 million. Thus buyers of these individual facsimiles can look to save over £110,000 per play. A copy of Shakespeare's First Folio is permanently displayed in the British Library's Sir John Ritblat Gallery.

In addition to the text of the play, each facsimile will include copies of some of the preliminary pages from the Folio including the famous portrait of Shakespeare, engraved by Martin Droeshout, An introduction has been provided by a leading expert on the First Folio, Anthony James West, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, University College London.

David Way, Head of Publishing at the British Library, commented, “It has been a pleasure to work with the Shakespeare's Globe on this project, which marks the first time in over 80 years that facsimiles of single plays from the First Folio have been produced. Facsimiles of more plays from the First Folio will be released to tie in with future Globe theatre seasons so I hope that readers will enjoy collecting these beautiful publications”.

Patrick Spottiswoode, Director, Globe Education at Shakespeare's Globe, added, ‘The aim of the Globe Folios has been to provide students, actors and the general reader alike with portable and affordable facsimiles of individual plays taken from the First Folio. I am indebted to the Trustees of the British Library for supporting this endeavour.'

Facsimiles of Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare, are published in hardback by Shakespeare's Globe and the British Library, 12 July 2007, RRP £14.95 (48 pages, 305 x 195mm, ISBN 978 0 7123 0946 2 / 978 0 7123 0951 6 / 978 0 7123 0956 1). The book is available from the Globe shop at a special introductory price, the British Library shop, and all good book retailers.

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