The literary world owes William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, a profound debt. Despite centuries having passed since his death, his plays and sonnets remain timeless literary masterpieces.
At the heart of this legacy lies the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, published in 1623, which is one of the most renowned and valuable books globally.
Unveiling the First Folio: Compilation and Contents
John Heminges and Henry Condell: Guardians of Shakespeare’s Work
John Heminges and Henry Condell, fellow actors and close friends of Shakespeare, compiled the First Folio, also known as “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies.”
This comprehensive publication, containing 36 plays, was first published in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death. Its primary objective was to preserve Shakespeare’s legacy and ensure its availability for future generations.
Unearthing Lost Treasures: New Plays in the First Folio
One of the most intriguing aspects of the First Folio is its inclusion of several works not previously published, which might have been lost if not for its creation. These previously unpublished plays include “Macbeth,” “The Tempest,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” and “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” among others.
Additionally, the Folio established the first authoritative text for several well-known works like “Hamlet,” “Othello,” and “King Lear.”
Definitive Texts: Standardizing Shakespearean Plays
Scholars widely acknowledge the First Folio’s significant contribution to English literature, serving as a catalyst for future writers and playwrights. This publication played a pivotal role in cementing Shakespeare’s reputation as one of the most brilliant literary minds in history.
Impact and Influence of the First Folio
Elevating Shakespeare in English Literature
Today, approximately 750 copies of the First Folio exist, revered as rare and valuable artifacts. Many of these copies are on display in prominent museums and libraries worldwide, such as the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., the British Library in London, and the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Popularizing Shakespearean Phrases
First and foremost, the First Folio’s significance lies in its role as a guardian of Shakespeare’s plays. At the time of Shakespeare’s passing, many of his plays remained unpublished, while some had only circulated as scripts among acting troupes.
The First Folio unified 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, including 18 that had never seen prior publication. Without this publication, some of these plays could have been lost over time. The First Folio secured Shakespeare’s legacy for future generations’ appreciation.
Setting a Precedent for Play Preservation
Another crucial aspect of the First Folio’s significance is its role in standardizing Shakespeare’s plays. Prior to the First Folio, individual play scripts were often sold and sometimes altered to suit specific audiences.
The First Folio presented Shakespeare’s plays in a standardized form, faithful to the original scripts. This approach enabled consistent performances and interpretations of the plays, solidifying their status as literary masterpieces.
Collecting the First Folio: Rarity and Value
Rarity and Global Impact of Existing Copies
The First Folio also provides invaluable historical context about the publication of Shakespeare’s plays. Sponsored by Shakespeare’s colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell, the publication was a commercial endeavor aimed at profitability.
Despite this, Heminges and Condell meticulously curated the publication to honor Shakespeare’s legacy. The book includes an introduction penned by Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, who lauded Shakespeare’s writing and elevated him to the status of a literary genius.
Auctions, Valuations, and Symbolism
Furthermore, the First Folio offers a unique opportunity to experience Shakespeare’s words on the page. The book’s large format facilitated legibility, enhancing readers’ appreciation. Intricate woodcuts and ornamental letters at the start of each play added to the book’s aesthetic and value.
In its physical embodiment, the First Folio stands as a masterpiece celebrating the potency of Shakespeare’s writing.
The Quest for the First Folio: Rarity and Reverence
The culmination of Theatrical Legacy
Who Compiled the First Folio?
John Heminges and Henry Condell, two principal actors who collaborated with Shakespeare, spearheaded the preservation of his literary legacy. They collected manuscripts of Shakespeare’s works and orchestrated their publication in the form of the First Folio.
This monumental collection, often dubbed “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies,” is hailed as the most pivotal edition of Shakespeare’s oeuvre ever published. By ensuring the preservation of Shakespeare’s works, Heminges and Condell made an indelible contribution to the literary world.
Ensuring Immortality through Compilation
The responsibility of printing the First Folio fell to William Jaggard and Isaac Jaggard, printers based in London. Despite the challenging and time-consuming nature of the printing process, the printers diligently worked to transform the vision into reality. In 1623, the First Folio was finally published, marking the culmination of their efforts.
A Cherished Heritage in Perpetuity
Curiously, Shakespeare played no role in the First Folio’s publication. He passed away in 1616, seven years before the book’s release. Nevertheless, the First Folio contained a preface authored by Ben Jonson, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and fellow playwrights.
Jonson’s preface lauded Shakespeare’s brilliance and exceptional talent, serving as a noteworthy essay on the value of Shakespeare’s work.
But why did Heminges and Condell undertake the monumental task of compiling the First Folio? Scholars posit that their motivation extended beyond preserving Shakespeare’s plays; they also aimed to secure their own professional prospects.
With Shakespearean plays in high demand, Heminges and Condell required accurate scripts for performances. The publication of the First Folio provided them with a comprehensive resource for their performances and contributed to the thriving market for Shakespearean plays.
A Lasting Literary Marvel
The Impact of the First Folio
A monumental achievement, the First Folio codified Shakespeare’s plays, establishing them as canonical works of English literature. Prior to the First Folio, Shakespeare’s plays were often printed individually and in unreliable versions.
The First Folio collated all of Shakespeare’s plays, including those not previously published, into a single volume, providing the public access to high-quality renditions of plays that had graced stages for years.
This publication enabled readers to delve deeper into the plays and played a significant role in establishing Shakespeare as a literary luminary.
Pervasive Phrases: First Folio’s Lingering Expressions
Additionally, the First Folio significantly impacted the way we perceive Shakespeare’s plays, contributing to the popularization of several familiar phrases. Notably, phrases like “star-crossed lovers” and “to be or not to be,” first introduced in the First Folio, have embedded themselves in everyday language, underscoring the book’s lasting influence.
A Literary Turning Point
Furthermore, the First Folio set a precedent for preserving and publishing plays, revolutionizing the approach to literary preservation. It underscored the significance of compiling plays in collections to safeguard them for posterity.
This emphasis on literature preservation served as a testament to the enduring value of literature, ensuring that Shakespeare’s plays would withstand the test of time.
Culmination of Literary Excellence
Collecting the First Folio
Finally, the First Folio has evolved into a sought-after collectible. Despite the existence of around 750 copies, the rarity and value of the First Folio remain unparalleled. Only a few of these copies are accessible to the public for viewing.
Rarity, Symbolism, and Global Impact
The First Folio holds unparalleled significance in Shakespearean history, as it marks the inaugural compilation of his plays. Shakespeare did not publish his own works during his lifetime, prompting fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell to undertake the task of compilation.
They collected original manuscripts and brought them together in a single volume, the First Folio. Featuring 36 plays, including previously unpublished ones such as “Macbeth,” “Julius Caesar,” and “Twelfth Night,” the First Folio is indispensable for comprehending Shakespeare’s works and their influence.
Heritage Preserved and Valued
Finally, the First Folio’s allure has persisted through the ages. Scholars and enthusiasts have passionately engaged with the First Folio since its release in 1623. Recognizing its significance, early collectors diligently sought copies. The First Folio became a symbol of prestige, displayed in libraries by affluent collectors to showcase their wealth and intellect.
Some enthusiasts even painstakingly copied the book by hand to possess a version of this prized publication. As time progressed, more copies of the First Folio were produced. However, due to its fragile nature and nearly four-century existence, existing copies remain relatively scarce.
A Testament to Literary Eminence
Today, the First Folio stands as one of the world’s most valuable books. In 2006, a copy fetched $6.2 million at a London auction. This well-preserved copy had been privately owned for over six decades.
The record for the highest price paid for a First Folio was set in 2020 when a copy sold for £9.97 million in London. Discovered in a French library, this remarkable copy retained much of its original features and was in exceptional condition.
Collectors and institutions globally recognized its profound significance, demonstrating their willingness to invest substantial sums to acquire it.
Safeguarding a Literary Legacy
In summary, the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s works holds immense significance in the world of literature. It not only protected Shakespeare’s plays but also cemented them as essential pieces of English literary history.
The reverberations of the First Folio’s impact can be felt in the widespread popularity of familiar phrases and the establishment of preservation standards. We owe a debt of gratitude to the meticulous efforts of John Heminges and Henry Condell, who compiled the First Folio and ensured Shakespeare’s enduring legacy.
Presently, this treasure is pursued passionately by collectors, commanding staggering prices for its rarity. The First Folio remains a treasured artifact poised to inspire and enlighten generations to come.