cover image The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio

The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio

Emma Smith. Bodleian Library, $40 (276p) ISBN 978-1-85124-598-7

Smith (Portable Magic), a Shakespeare studies professor at the University of Oxford, offers a meticulous history of the First Folio, a collection of 36 Shakespeare plays published seven years after his death in 1616. Detailing how the folio was compiled, she explains that prefatory materials written by two actors in Shakespeare’s company who helped compile the collection report that it sourced previously published plays from print copies corrected by “playhouse personnel” and unpublished plays from transcriptions made by professional writers “for theatrical use.” “The folio’s target audience was elite,” Smith writes, explaining that its high price tag (15 shillings) ensured that the entire print run of more than 700 copies sold to “noblemen and commoners of standing.” She also delves into the history of a particular copy of the folio that she authenticated in 2016 after it was found at Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, explaining that it was re-bound into three volumes in the 18th century to comport with the “fashion for portable, multiple-volume sets” and features illustrations of Shakespeare that were not included in the original. The detailed discussion of the folio’s publication offers enlightening glimpses into the history of the book trade, and the reproduction of full pages from such plays as The Tempest and The Merry Wives of Windsor will please fans who are unwilling to shell out three million pounds for the actual article. Shakespeare buffs will want to check this out. Photos. (July)