Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies

Excerpt

The King James Bible and the First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays are the two greatest books in the cultural history of the English-speaking peoples. They were published within a comparatively short time of one another: the Bible in 1611 and the Folio in 1623, and thus represent the flowering of literature in the ages of Queen Elizabeth and King James.

The 1623 First Folio enjoys a position of importance because it preserved the text of at least 17 of Shakespeare's plays which might well have been lost to posterity. Had it not been for the pious labor of John Heminge and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare's friends and fellows of the King's Men Company, in collecting the plays for the Folio, the world might never have known the texts of The Tempest, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and at least ten other plays. Nineteen plays had appeared in quarto before 1623 and many of these exist in a different form in the Folio text, thus opening the way for a vast amount of study by scholars seeking to find out as certainly as possible what Shakespeare originally wrote.

Variations are also found among copies of the Folio itself, for corrections were made during the printing. Ultimately what is desired will be a collation of all extant copies of the Folio, but this is a formidable task even though Charlton Hinman has perfected a mechanical device making it possible to compare copies in a fraction of the time required for collation by the unaided eye. Such a collation was the dream of Henry Clay Folger, who gathered together 79 copies of the First Folio as the nucleus of his magnificent Elizabethan collection which is now housed in the Folger Shakespeare Memorial Library in Washington. Approximately 150 more copies are known to be in existence; thus nearly one-fourth of the original edition of probably 1,000 copies has survived the ravages of time. What more fitting tribute to the greatness of this volume than this silent testimony to those who cherished Shakespeare's plays and preserved them over the centuries?

Although the Folio cannot be considered a rare book, or even a first-rate example of the printer's art, it has become one of the most expensive books in the world because it does contain all but one or two plays which Shakespeare wrote in . . .

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