Shakespeare First Folio Facsimile

On 8 November 1623, Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount submitted the Folio for registration at the Stationers office. The process of printing this book, begun by William Jaggard, Isaac’s father, who unfortunately died shortly before completion, took two years, in part because of numerous interruptions. The Jaggard print shop was a particularly busy one, and other projects sometimes took priority.

On display here is a 1968 photographic facsimile of the Folio prepared by the late University of Kansas Professor of English Charlton Hinman, who taught at KU from 1960 to 1975. He chose the pages from numerous copies of the First Folio (82), held by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.



Hinman title page.jpg

William Shakespeare. The First Folio of Shakespeare Prepared by Charlton Hinman. New York, 1968.

This title page presents a visual image of Shakespeare that has become iconic. Martin Droeshout was the engraver. We find here the official title of the Folio: “Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies,” which lets us know the principle of organization. The title page also includes this claim: “Published according to the True Originall Copies.” The tricky word is “Originall,” for the compilers offer no explanation or definition of that term. But it certainly is a shrewd advertising word.

Opposite the title page is a brief poem by Ben Jonson, who urges readers to look “Not on his Picture, but his Booke.”




This straightforward page lists the plays included in the volume. Well, not completely: Troilus and Cressida, while in the Folio, is not listed—some problem in the printing process. Cymbeline, we note, comes at the end of the tragedies; today scholars typically put this play among the comedies. We can puzzle over why The Tempest, among Shakespeare’s final plays, comes first in the Folio. This volume does not include Pericles, which had been produced and published as recently as 1619 and is accepted in the Shakespeare canon.



Names of the Principall Actors

This list of 26 actors captures the makeup of the King’s Men acting company from 1603 when it came under the patronage of King James. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Shakespeare’s name comes first—a clear pride of place, which John Heminge and Henry Condell, compilers of the First Folio, granted their friend and fellow actor. The second name is Richard Burbage, the recognized greatest actor of that time and for whom Shakespeare wrote most of his leading roles.

Shakespeare’s will in 1616 named Burbage, Heminge, and Condell as recipients of money for which they should buy rings, a sign of friendship.


Epistle Dedicatory

Condell and Heminge write an elaborate epistle dedicatory (dedication letter) that recognizes the patronage of two of the most important noblemen in the Jacobean court: William Herbert (Earl of Pembroke) and his brother Philip Herbert (Earl of Montgomery). William, also singled out by Ben Jonson, remained Lord Chamberlain in 1623 and, with Philip, had received the honor of Order of the Garter. Philip Herbert had the additional distinction of being a Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber, for a while being the only non-Scot in this elite group. Condell and Heminge have obviously chosen wisely. They note that the Herbert brothers have been supporters of Shakespeare and of the theater generally. They had liked the plays when they were acted. The actors assert that they have undertaken the process of collecting the plays solely to honor their friend and fellow. They now “humbly consecrate” to the Herberts “these remains of your servant Shakespeare.” As with the address to readers, Heminge and Condell by “remains” mean Shakespeare’s body of work.




To the Great Variety of Readers

In this address to readers, Heminge and Condell make several cogent points, the first being that potential readers must first buy this book, an unashamed and rather blunt request. Inherently, this imperative raises questions of the relative rate of literacy and economic status among the public. The actors also note that the plays have already received approbation from audiences, having passed the test of scrutiny in the theaters. Next, the writers indicate something of their editorial procedure as they went about creating this collection of plays. These actors also create a romantic view of how Shakespeare wrote, everything being perfect and not needing revision. They close the address by insisting that readers must read Shakespeare again and again. “And if then you doe not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him.”