Publication of Shakespeare's Plays

Andrew Nixon, Timothy Charlton, Emma Olshan


Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were printed during his lifetime. They were printed in quarto format. Quartos were small, unbound pages that could fit in one’s pocket. The first quartos were considered unreliable and their origins are questionable. One theory is that audience members took notes of the play’s dialogue, hired poets to fill in the lines of the notes, and sold their manuscripts to publishers. Another theory is that the actors needed manuscripts for performances in provinces and simply recreated their lines from memory. A current theory is that the quartos were Shakespeare’s own papers, set to type. However, “there nothing on which to base this conclusion except the desire for it to be true” (xlv), leaving only speculation for how his plays got printed.

The First Folio by Henry Condell and John Heminges

A folio has a larger page size than the quarto, while being arranged in double columns
close to a foot high. A 1623 volume of Shakespeare’s work, called “The First Folio, was gathered and prepared by two King’s Men actors, Henry Condell and John Heminges. Condell and Heminges contested the authenticity of the quartos, saying that their Folio was superior, since they personally collected their former colleagues notes to comprise the folio. Subsequently, readers and scholars in the 18th and 19th century considered the folio to be more superior than the quartos. However, Condell and Heminges’ assertions are now under question. The first four plays in the Folio were copied from the previous quartos, and the next four were identified as being written by Ralph Crane, a professional scribe. Thus, the belief that the first four plays were “according to the True Original Copies” (xliii), was proven false. After this was realized, theories were and are being developed to explain why Condell and Heminges lied. They believed Condell and Heminges were only criticizing a select few of the early quartos, not all of them, especially since most of the quarto's texts are equal to or better than the First Folio. Nevertheless, mystery still shrouds how the publication of Shakespeare’s plays, and even if they are truly from his original copies.
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Folger, But Not the Coffee

Growing up in New York during the late 19th century, Henry Clay Folger harbored a deep adoration for classical literature - particularly that of William Shakespeare. Folger devoted his life to gathering the surviving manuscripts of Shakespeare’s works under one roof.His dream eventually came to fruition in 1932, two years following his death from heart failure. The product was the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. To this day, Folger’s Library contains more of the original quartos and folios of Shakespeare’s works than any other site on Earth. The Folger Shakespeare Library contains all four Folios of Shakespeare’s works - the First Folio (1623), the Second Folio (1632), the Third Folio (1663-1664), and the Fourth Folio (1685) - as well as a high quantity of the original quartos.To provide some perspective as to the significance of this accomplishment, it is estimated there are only 230 copies of the First Folio still in existence, and 75 of these copies are housed in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Folger’s work to collect the classical quartos and folios of Shakespeare’s work has aided Shakespearean scholars in their analysis of sixteenth and seventeenth century printing techniques - particularly, “the printing of Shakespeare’s plays.” (xlvii) Ultimately, the Folger Shakespeare Library is the life product of a man devoted to ensuring the elegant works of one of the most famous playwrights of all time remains prominent and relevant in a constantly changing world.
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