Exhibits and collectors editions mark 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio

Oct 24, 2023, 5:30 AM

This cover image released by Rizzoli shows “Shakespeare's First Folio: 400th Anniversary Facsimil...

This cover image released by Rizzoli shows “Shakespeare's First Folio: 400th Anniversary Facsimile Edition: Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, Published According to the Originall Copies." (Rizzoli via AP)

(Rizzoli via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — On the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, rare originals are being displayed and publishers are offering collectors editions of Shakespeare’s plays, including one that sells for $1,500.

Scholars believe that between 200-300 copies still survive from the late 1623 release of “Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies.” Presided over by two friends and former colleagues of Shakespeare, who had died in 1616, the Folio ensured that lasting texts existed for “Macbeth,” “Twelfth Night” and other cornerstones of Western literature. In Shakespeare’s lifetime, many of his works were unpublished or available only in cheap paperback editions.

“Without the First Folio we would have lost a world of words,” Gregory Doran, artistic director emeritus of the Royal Shakespeare Company, writes in the introduction to “The Complete Plays” of Shakespeare, a new publication.

First folios have been on exhibit everywhere from the British Museum to the New York Public Library and at least two major book projects will mark the anniversary.

The British Library is collaborating with Rizzoli Books in New York on “Shakespeare’s First Folio: 400th Anniversary Facsimile Edition,” contained within a slipcase cover. With a list price of $135, the book is 928 pages and includes an introductory booklet co-written by Adrian Edwards, head curator of the British Library’s Printed Heritage Collections.

The most ambitious, and exclusive project, is “The Complete Plays,” a limited edition from the Folio Society, an employee-owned company in London that puts out customized volumes ranging from “Beowulf” to George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. The Society has printed just 1,000 copies of the 3-volume box set, with a list price of $1,500. Besides Doran’s introduction, the Folio Society release includes a foreword by Dame Judi Dench. Each set is hand-numbered by illustrator Neil Packer.

More than three-quarters of “The Complete Plays” have already sold, according to the publisher.

“In an era when everything seems disposable, I feel like there’s a good market for fine editions of classic books,” says Folio Society publishing director Tom Walker.

The First Folio was daring, even audacious for its time, when such publications were “reserved for learned treatises, hefty genealogical texts, books of religious or historiographical importance, or even works by monarchs,” according to Shakespeare scholar Chris Laoutaris. Before Shakespeare the only playwright known to have been so honored was his contemporary Ben Jonson, who honored himself by overseeing “The Workes of Benjamin Jonson” in 1616. While the British Museum edition is relatively affordable, the Folio Society’s production is closer to the intended market for the original release.

“Only those with deep pockets, and the space to read them, could afford such luxurious products,” says Laoutaris, an associate professor at the Shakespeare Institute in the playwright’s native Stratford-On-Avon and author of “Shakespeare’s Book: The Intertwined Lives Behind the Fist Folio,” which came out this year. “When it was released, the First Folio cost more to produce than any other collection of plays in history up until that point.”

The Folio proved successful enough that an updated edition, the Second Folio, was published in 1632, a Third Folio in 1663 and a fourth in 1685. By the 19th century, the original Folio was becoming a valued piece of history, in part through the efforts of collectors Henry and Emily Folger, and a symbol of might for the British Empire. Sir George Grey, who had served as a colonial governor, established libraries worldwide that included copies of the First Folio.

“For Grey, the First Folio represented the pinnacle of culture, but specifically English culture,” Laoutaris says. “He sought nothing less than the obliteration of the language and culture of the native populations in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, nurturing a desire to replace these with the English language and its literary products.”

The United States is home to more than half of all existing copies of the First Folio, followed by the United Kingdom and Japan, with handfuls of editions also existing in Germany, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand among other countries. For antiquarians, the First Folio is the greatest of prizes: One sold for $9.9 million in 2020. For scholars and countless admirers, the Folio is secondary to the plays themselves.

“Shakespeare’s stature, for the past 400 years, is a reflection of his plays’ staying power on the stage far more than their survival in a collected works,” says James Shapiro, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and author of several books on Shakespeare.

“You can buy a Ben Jonson folio for a few thousand dollars; a Shakespeare folio will cost you millions. The reason for this simple: the remarkable afterlife of his comedies, histories, and tragedies in theaters throughout the world.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Arts + Entertainment

golden bachelor Gerry Turner and Theresa Nist...

Marianne Garvey, CNN

‘Golden Bachelor’ turns into golden divorce

Just three months after marrying in a live televised ceremony, the "Golden Bachelor" couple announced their plans to divorce on “Good Morning America” Friday.

10 hours ago

Unique theater design...

Michael Camit

New, unique theater thriving in historic University of Utah building

Meldrum Theatre is a new, unique theater at the University of Utah. The design creates an engaging audience experience.

16 hours ago

Steve Sales ranks "Civil War" as a B-grade movie. Powerful, but one bad dramatic flair ruins it....

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Civil War’ is a powerful movie that needs to be seen

The new "Civil War" movie would like you to think in the not-too-distant future, the divisions in our nation and lead to another civil war.

18 hours ago

A rendering showing what the new Golden Spike State Monument will look like when it's completed. Go...

Carter Williams,

Utah gets $1.5M donation as it unveils more plans for new golden spike monument

A 43-foot replica of the famous golden spike will be at the site of a brand-new state monument in Brigham City.

21 hours ago

The Instagram logo is seen on a cell phone in Boston, USA, Oct. 14, 2022....

KELVIN CHAN AP Business Writer

Instagram begins blurring nudity in messages to protect teens and fight sexual extortion

Instagram says it's deploying new tools to protect young people, including a feature that will automatically blur nudity in direct messages.

21 hours ago

In this July 20, 2017, file photo, former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his ...

Mariah Maynes

OJ Simpson dead at 76

The family of OJ Simpson announced via X that the former football player died after a battle with cancer. 

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Live Nation Concerts

Artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Exhibits and collectors editions mark 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio