Soon after William Shakespeare’s death in 1616, John Heminge and Henry Condell, colleagues of Shakespeare in the King’s Men acting company, compiled “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies” commonly known as the “First Folio”. It was printed during 1622 and 1623 in the Jaggard family’s busy London workshop. The first copies were sold in late 1623.
Heminge and Condell wanted to make a standard version of Shakespeare’s plays because while Shakespeare was alive the plays had many different versions in manuscripts, prompt books, and pirated copies. They wanted to make the best copies available to their public. The First Folio contains 18 plays published before 1623, and, marvelously, contains 18 plays that up until 1623 had not been published anywhere before. Even if we include the few plays later added to Shakespeare’s whole published work, The First Folio is the primary printed record of nearly half of all Shakespeare’s plays!
Scholars believe that approximately 750 copies of the First Folio were printed. Only 233 survive today, and 82 are in the Folger Shakespeare Library, the largest collection of First Folios in the world. For a look at pictures of the whole book, a complete digital reproduction of First Folio no. 68 is online in the Folger Library’s digital library collection. Folger also maintains a site that discusses how various Folios are different from each other First Folios Online: The Collation
About the Tour
The First Folio! fifty-state national tour is part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s 2016 Wonder of Will celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare. The tour offers those from Ohio a fabulous opportunity to experience this unique work that truly gave us Shakespeare. The book will be on display in the library, opened to Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” speech, and visitors are invited to visit and encounter the original 1623 First Folio text for themselves.
Cleveland Public Library will be the site for the Ohio First Folio! tour stop. The book will be on display in the Treasure Room within the Special Collections on the third floor of the Main Library, 325 Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland from June 20 to July 30, 2016 during regular Library hours. Visitors are encouraged to explore Shakespeare-themed displays, activities, performances, spoken word events, crafts classes, and technology in Brett Hall, The John G. White Corridor, the third floor displays, Tech Central, and the Cleveland Digital Public Library before viewing the First Folio in the Treasure Room. See our calendar for a full list of events.