Folio, the First

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John Heminges (1566—1630) editor of Shakespeare's first folio

Henry Condell (fl. 1598—1627) actor and editor of Shakespeare's first folio

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Henry VI, Part Three

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A folio is a book made of sheets of paper folded only once, and thus of large size. The first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays is the First Folio, of 1623. It was put together by his colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell, ‘without ambition either of self-profit or fame, only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare’.

The volume was printed and published by William and Isaac Jaggard, with Edward Blount as an additional publisher. It includes sixteen plays not previously printed, and two others (3 Henry VI and The Taming of the Shrew) previously printed only in doubtful texts. It also provides superior texts of some of the previously printed plays. Pericles is omitted. To make the plays more readable and literary the editors organized them by genre and added act and scene divisions. Probably about 1,000 copies of the Folio were printed; between 230 and 240 survive. It sold originally for about £1.

Heminges and Condell supplied an Address ‘To the great variety of readers’, and dedicated the volume to William and Philip Herbert, Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. The preliminary matter includes the commendatory poem by Ben Jonson.

The principal studies of the First Folio are W. W. Greg's The Shakespeare First Folio (1955) and Charlton Hinman's The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare (1963). Several facsimiles have been published. The most important for scholarly purposes is The Norton Facsimile (1968, 2nd edn. 1996), prepared by Charlton Hinman and using the best pages from thirty different copies.

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.

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