The Ambiguous Testimony of the
On and off, starting in 1621 and extending into 1623, four printers in London were hard at work on a major publishing project: Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, Published According to the True Original Copies. Collected in the book were thirty-six plays by Shakespeare; half of them were seeing print for the first time.
Much later, scholars nicknamed the book the First Folio from the way it was laid out and printed. Four large pages printed on both sides of a single sheet of paper folded once is called a folio. Two columns of type filled each folio page, which was about thirteen inches high by eight inches wide. In the decade that followed publication of the First Folio, the collected plays were printed again in editions now called the second, third, and fourth folios.
The printers, who had other projects as well, took more than a year to produce the thick volume of 908 pages. The type was hand-set by as many as nine different compositors, each with his own ideas about spelling and punctuation. They changed words to make lines fit. Proofreading was haphazard. Errors and variations in spelling and punctuation abound in all the extant copies. 1