Shakespeare: The First Folio

By Berry, Ralph | Contemporary Review, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview

Shakespeare: The First Folio


Berry, Ralph, Contemporary Review


FOLIO, a sheet of paper which is folded in half, making two leaves or four pages. Fold it again and you have a quarto, with one sheet supplying eight pages. The folio format makes for a large, prestigious book, which has to be bound; quarto is half the size, suitable for a paperback edition. That was the format in which a number of Shakespeare's plays had been printed, during and after his lifetime, and the Collected Plays (as we would say) came out in 1623, seven years after his death. Now known as the First Folio, that volume is the focus of the world's collectors, scholars, and--occasionally--thieves.

One such showed up recently, when a man took a stolen copy of the First Folio to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., to have the copy authenticated. He was immediately arrested and then charged by police in Durham. The book had been stolen from a display case in the University of Durham. No doubt this book dealer displayed naivety, but the man went to the right place. If you want to know about first folios, go to the Folger. They have seventy-nine copies there.

Oddly enough, the First Folio, for all its fame, is not really a rare book. Some 240 copies are known to be in existence. It is thought that perhaps 1000 were printed, with a price at [pounds sterling]1 (forty times the cost of an individual quarto). That made it expensive, and the copies must have been fairly well looked after. Sooner or later, a third of the extant copies fell into the hands of a great collector, whose name dominates the later story of the book: Henry Clay Folger.

Folger (1857-1930) was not a man of huge wealth to begin with. He became however President and Chairman of the Standard Oil Company, and devoted his large income to buying books. These he housed eventually in the Folger Shakespeare Library, a monumental gift to the nation. Within a classical exterior is a Tudor interior; within that are steel vaults controlled for humidity and temperature, so as to guarantee the absolute security of the library's treasures.

The rarest of these treasures are the Shakespeare quartos. They yield only to a mighty hunter. Nothing conveys better the flavour of Folger's early days than John Quincy Adams' account of the pursuit of the first edition of Titus Andronicus. It had turned up among the possessions of a Swedish postal clerk, which he had inherited from his father, and the find was reported in 1905:

  Mr Folger was thus enabled to read of the discovery in an eight-line
  dispatch to The New York Times of January 11. In great excitement he
  cabled to his London agent, Henry Sotheran and Company, to send a
  representative post-haste to Sweden to negotiate for the purchase of
  the treasure, and then waited, he tells us, in growing apprehension.
  Five days later came over the wires the laconic message:
  'Representative now in Sweden'; the following day came a second
  message: 'Bought. Cable immediately two thousand pounds direct to
  account of Petrus Johannes Krafft, Ricksbanken, Malmo, Sweden'; and a
  short time later the prize was in his hands.

It is still the only known copy to exist. The world knows of the folios, but the collector dreams above all of landing a quarto. Only two copies are known of the 'Bad' First Quarto of Hamlet. One is in the British Museum, the other in the Huntington Library of California (that great 'collection of collections, or library of libraries'. Henry E. Huntington had bought up the Duke of Devonshire's library). Not even the Folger has that.

Other libraries have not been idle, of course. The British Museum has five copies of the First Folio. George III got there first, ahead of the Americans, with his Royal Library (incorporating David Garrick's collection of old plays). Trinity College, Cambridge has two copies, and the superb Bodmer Library, Zurich, has one. That is because Martin Bodmer made it a rule never to buy a duplicate, and always to insist on a copy in first-class shape. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Shakespeare: The First Folio
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.