Exhibitions and Collector’s Editions Mark 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio
To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, rare originals are on display and publishers are offering collectors editions of Shakespeare’s plays, including one selling for $1,500.
Researchers estimate that between 200 and 300 copies still survive from the late 1623 release of “The Comedies, Histories and Tragedies of Mr. William Shakespeare.” Chaired by two friends and former colleagues of Shakespeare, who died in 1616, the Folio ensured the existence of enduring texts for “Macbeth,” “Twelfth Night” and other cornerstones of Western literature. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, many of his works were unpublished or available only in inexpensive paperback editions.
“Without the First Folio, we would have lost a world of words,” writes Gregory Doran, artistic director emeritus of the Royal Shakespeare Company, in the introduction to Shakespeare’s “The Complete Plays,” a new publication.
The first folios have been exhibited everywhere from the British Museum to the New York Public Library, and at least two major book projects will mark the anniversary.
The British Museum is collaborating with Rizzoli Books in New York on the “Shakespeare’s First Folio: 400th Anniversary Facsimile Edition”, contained in a slipcase. With a list price of $150, the book is 928 pages long and includes an introductory booklet co-written by Adrian Edwards, chief curator of the British Library’s printed heritage collections.
The most ambitious and exclusive project is “The Complete Plays,” a limited edition from the Folio Society, an employee-owned company in London that publishes custom volumes ranging from “Beowulf” to “A Song of Ice and Fire » by George RR Martin. ” series.
The Company only printed 1,000 copies of the 3-volume box set, at a list price of $1,500. In addition to Doran’s introduction, the Folio Society version includes a foreword by Dame Judi Dench. Each set is hand numbered by illustrator Neil Packer.
More than three-quarters of “The Complete Plays” have already been sold, according to the publisher.
“In an age where everything seems disposable, I feel like there is a good market for beautiful editions of classic books,” says Tom Walker, publishing director of the Folio Society.
The First Folio was daring, even daring for the time, when such publications were “reserved for scholarly treatises, voluminous genealogical texts, books of religious or historiographic importance, or even the works of monarchs”, according to the scholar by Shakespeare Chris Laoutaris.
Before Shakespeare, the only playwright known to have been so honored was his contemporary Ben Jonson, who honored himself by overseeing “The Works of Benjamin Jonson” in 1616. Although the British Museum edition is relatively affordable, the production of the Folio Society is closer to that expected. market for the original version.
“Only those with deep pockets and the space to read them could afford such luxurious products,” says Laoutaris, an associate professor at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-On-Avon, the playwright’s hometown and author of “Shakespeare’s Book: Intertwined Lives”. Behind the Fist Folio,” released this year. “When first released, the First Folio cost more to produce than any other play collection in history up to that point.”
The Folio was so successful that an updated edition, the Second Folio, was published in 1632, a Third Folio in 1663, and a fourth in 1685. By the 19th century, the original Folio was becoming a valuable piece of history, in partly thanks to the efforts of collectors Henry and Emily Folger, and a symbol of power for the British Empire. Sir George Grey, who had been a colonial governor, established libraries around the world including copies of the First Folio.
“For Grey, the First Folio represented the pinnacle of culture, but more particularly of English culture,” explains Laoutaris. “He sought nothing less than the erasure of the language and culture of the indigenous populations of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, fueling a desire to replace them with the English language and its literary products .”
The United States is home to more than half of all existing copies of the First Folio, followed by the United Kingdom and Japan, with some editions also existing in Germany, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Zeeland, among other countries.
For antique dealers, the First Folio is the greatest prize: one sold for $9.9 million in 2020. For scholars and countless admirers, the Folio is secondary to the coins themselves.
“Shakespeare’s stature over the past 400 years is a reflection of the staying power of his plays on stage rather than their survival in a collection of works,” says James Shapiro, professor of English and comparative literature. at Columbia University and author of several books on Shakespeare.
“You can buy a Ben Jonson folio for a few thousand dollars; a Shakespeare folio will cost you millions. The reason is simple: the remarkable afterlife of his comedies, stories and tragedies in theaters around the world. ”