Shakespeare's earliest published plays are referred to as folios or quartos according to the folding of the printed sheets and therefore the size of the book: folios being large, tall volumes and the quartos smaller and squarer.
Of about 750 copies of the First Folio printed between Feb. 1622 and Nov. 1623, some 230 survive. A second Folio was issued in 1632, containing ‘An Epitaph on…Shakespeare’ by Milton, which was his first published poem; a third Folio was issued in 1663, whose second impression of 1664 contained Pericles and six apocryphal plays; the fourth and last Folio was published in 1685. Except for the text of Pericles none of the Folios later than the first has any textual integrity.
Thirty‐six plays, 18 printed for the first time, were arranged by Heminges and Condell into sections of comedies, histories, and tragedies for F1. It was dedicated to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, and Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery, and contains the Droeshout portrait and a list of ‘the Principall Actors in all these Playes’, together with commendatory verses by contemporaries including Jonson.
During his lifetime 18 of Shakespeare's plays were published in quartos: Othello appeared in 1622. Following A. W. Pollard's analysis, it is now established that over half of those quartos are ‘bad’ ones. Their texts are extremely corrupt as a result of their reconstruction from memory by a member, or members, of their cast.
Textual criticism and bibliography have largely been concerned with establishing relationships between the ‘good’ quartos (and in some cases the ‘bad’ ones as well) and their versions in the Folio, to determine on which text an editor is to base his edition. Scholars have mainly sought to determine the nature of the copy of which the printers made use. The chief types of copy which have been distinguished are: