Folio Fragments

A curious cultural and economic phenomenon has developed over a few centuries: the sale and purchase of fragments of the Shakespeare Folios, especially the First Folio. This Folio has become the secular equivalent of the Gutenberg Bible: it’s worth having at least a page rather than none. Fragments of the Shakespeare Folios reside in many a library or museum. Determining their authenticity can be vexing, however. As recently as 2021 a fragment containing only one play, 1 Henry IV, was on auction for $50,000-100,0000. Collectors have sought fragments to complete or repair folios or just to possess them. On display here are fragments from both the First Folio (1623) and the Second Folio (1632).



William Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. London, 1623.

The portion of the First Folio contains King Lear, Othello, and Anthony and Cleopatra - the last three tragedies of this volume (discounting Cymbeline, which is a comedy).


Williams Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. London, 1632.

The library has three separate fragments from the Second Folio. Two of them have single plays: Richard III and Twelfth Night, opened to the play’s beginning.



The next full page contains the “Actors Names”; we understand that to mean the “characters’ names.” They are arranged by social standing and gender and include a curious group of “Irregular Humorists” (disorderly whimsical people).  Even “Epilogue” is listed as a separate character, leaving open to editors’ imaginations who might actually speak that part.



The remaining fragment contains three plays: Richard II, 1 Henry IV, and 2 Henry IV; the last opens to the Epilogue of the play. This Epilogue occupies a whole page and uses italic font exclusively, setting it apart from the rest of the text. It is highly self-conscious, refers to this “displeasing play,” and promises that the “humble author” will continue the narrative in another play.