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About this collection

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [The First Folio] was published in London in 1623 by William Jaggard and Edward Blount. The volume included 36 plays—18 of which appeared in print for the first time, thus preserving half of Shakespeare’s output as a playwright, including such plays as Measure for Measure, The Tempest, and Macbeth. The famous title page engraving by Martin Droeshout preserves one of only two authentic portraits of Shakespeare (the other being his memorial bust in Stratford).

 

The First Folio is the product of a group of actors and associates, led by John Heminges and Henry Condell, who set out to collect printed quarto and manuscript copies of Shakespeare’s plays for publication in a collected edition. The exact number of copies printed is not known, but most scholars agree that approximately 750 copies were produced at a retail cost of roughly 15 shillings, just less than one pound sterling. For comparison, a skilled craftsman earned about 5 shillings a week. At the time of its publication, the First Folio would have been sold in stationers’ shops as a group of unbound sheets. Purchasers would then have these sheets bound, further adding to the cost.

 

Today there are 233 surviving copies of the First Folio, three of which are held by the Ransom Center.

 

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