Teasing out the meaning of Shakespeare’s First Folio

The publishers of the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s plays had to come up with a sales marketing strategy—or so it did for one in 1623.

Half of Shakespeare’s First Folio contained 18 previously unprinted plays. But the other half of the collection was already available in print in less expensive quarto formats (like pamphlets) that could be purchased separately. How could its publishers persuade Shakespeare fans to spend substantially more for the entire collection in a larger format?

With a convincing sales pitch, of course. John Heminge and Henri Candel, two actors from Shakespeare’s company, stated in their preface to this publication that these works were the most correct and complete versions, while readers were „misled by various plagiarized and surreptitious copies”. plays, „mutilated” and „mutilated” copies.

There is an attempt to treat the First Folio as the best text,” said Ph.D. candidate in the Yale English Department. „And in a way, it’s been enhancing Folio’s reputation since today.”

The preface is one of many interesting aspects of the First Folio highlighted in a new exhibit celebrating the 400th anniversary of its publication at Sterling Memorial Library. Curated by Houghton and displayed in the library’s new Hanke Exhibition Gallery, the exhibit focuses on an original copy of the folio — with Shakespeare’s famous engraved portrait on the front — on loan from Yale University’s Elizabethan Club.

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The club’s librarian, Houghton, completed the First Folio, a collection of rare books housed in the club’s bank vault in 1911, to present it in a wider context, seeking to explain changing views of its value and development. Its prestige over time.

In 17Th century, nobody really cared about the First Folio,” he said. „It’s basically a 20 to take care of itTh— matter of the century.”

In fact, the authors published three later editions of the Folio in 1632, 1663, and 1685. All three are on display at the exhibition. In the Fourth Folio, the publishers included plays not even written by Shakespeare.

It speaks to a desire to expand the Shakespeare canon, and by providing 'content’ to get people to buy more books, now we might think of it,” Houghton said. „It may seem surprising to us, but in the late 17th century, these later folios were what people wanted.”

In fact, he noted, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University famously sold their First Folio in 1664 after acquiring a copy of the Third Folio containing additional plays attributed to Shakespeare.

Somewhat surprisingly, the folio’s extraordinary value today — which sold at auction for less than $10 million years ago — is not related to scarcity. More than 200 copies are known to survive, according to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, which has 82 copies. Yale’s Beinecke Library also has a copy in its collection.

So why is it considered so valuable? A primary reason, said Houghton, is that „The Tempest,” „Macbeth,” „As You Like It” and many other plays are considered „absolutely essential to the Shakespearean canon.”

The table of contents of a later edition of the Folio includes notable Shakespearean works, including „The Tempest,” „Macbeth” and „Romeo and Juliet.” (Photo courtesy of Eve Houghton)

It was the first book to divide Shakespeare’s works into genres: comedies, histories, and tragedies.

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But Houghton links its status to „its cultural value, it’s the symbol of Shakespeare, and Shakespeare is at the center of the English literary tradition.”

Since the Folio was published seven years after Shakespeare’s death, it is not known whether he intended the plays to be published or whether he worked on the project. At that time it was not common for playwrights to publish their works, especially in expensive folio form. Indeed, when Shakespeare’s contemporary and friend, the English playwright Ben Jonson, published his complete works in 1616, he was „absolutely ridiculed.”

„Plays were popular entertainment, they weren’t literature, because it was considered too pretentious to come out with a complete work of plays,” Houghton said. „It’s now got a status closer to screenwriting.”

Copies of Johnson’s works displayed in the exhibition are signed by the author.

Yale’s Elizabethan Club owned these works — as well as one of the country’s most important collections of early Shakespeare quartos — through its founder, Alexander Smith Cochrane, a carpet manufacturer heir. Cochran, an 1896 graduate of Yale, was a short-lived collector of Shakespeare’s works and donated them all.Th– Centennial Clubhouse Located in the heart of the Yale campus, when he founded the Elizabethan Club in 1911, the Independent Club continues to purchase rare books through its bequest.

The Opening reception For the First Folio exhibition, which will feature Houghton’s ideas, will be held at the gallery on Thursday, September 28 at 4 p.m. Following that A symposium „Shakespeare for All Time?”, co-sponsored by the Elizabethan Club and the Yale Department of English. Friday echoes the title of the exhibition.

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The day-long symposium will feature essays by a number of academics who will reassess and re-evaluate the legacy of the First Folio after 400 years. Houghton worked with English professor Catherine Nicholson to organize the symposium.

„The book’s collection value, its use as a symbol of cultural hegemony or prestige, its real and imagined relationship to Shakespeare, and its importance to scholars are all tangled up,” said Nicholson, a member of Yale’s faculty of arts and sciences. „Teasing them out is part of the work of reading the Folio today.”

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