William Shakespeare’s ‘First Folio’ Reaches Its 400th Anniversary

William Shakespeare’s “First Folio” reached its 400th anniversary as it was published on November 8, 1623. Tributes all over the world surfaced to commemorate his greatest works.

William Shakespeare’s First Folio reached its 400th anniversary which prompted publishers to offer collectors’ editions of his plays. 

Shakespeare’s friends compiled the folio known as Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. The folio contained his first published collection of plays seven years after his death. His First Folio was published on November 8, 1623. 

The Associated Press (AP) reported that scholars believed between 200 to 300 copies still survive from the 1623 release of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. The folio contained his lasting texts that existed for Macbeth, Twelfth Night, and more of his works. 

Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director emeritus Gregory Doran said that without Shakespeare’s First Folio, “we would have lost a world of worlds.” Doran said these words in his introduction in a new publication titled The Complete Plays of Shakespeare.

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Projects commemorating Shakespeare’s First Folio

A couple projects surfaced to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio

London-based publisher The Folio Society listed The Complete Plays of Shakespeare on its website for £1,000. Doran wrote the introduction in this edition and featured illustrations from Neil Packer. Packer hand-numbered 1,000 sets of this edition. 

The Folio Society’s The Complete Plays of Shakespeare
The Folio Society’s The Complete Plays of Shakespeare/Photo via The Folio Society’s website  

The publisher stated on its website that more than three quarters of the edition have already sold. AP reported that The Complete Plays is the most ambitious and exclusive project in tribute to Shakespeare’s First Folio.

The British Library collaborated with New York’s Rizzoli Books with Shakespeare’s First Folio: 400th Anniversary Facsimile Edition. The book featured a slipcase cover and a list price of £125 on its website. It contained 928 pages which includes an introductory booklet that head curator of the British Library’s Printed Heritage Collections Adrian Edwards co-wrote. 

Shakespeare's First Folio Facsimile
Shakespeare’s First Folio Facsimile/Photo via The British Library Shop’s website

The United States is home to most existing copies of the First Folio

Shakespeare’s First Folio became a success which paved the way for updated editions. The Second Folio was published in 1632, the Third Folio in 1663, and the Fourth Folio in 1685.

Shakespeare’s First Folio that Shakespeare North Playhouse loaned from The British Library
Shakespeare’s First Folio that Shakespeare North Playhouse loaned from The British Library/Photo via Instagram @shakespearenorthplayhouse 

AP said as well that the United States became home to more than half of all existing copies of the First Folio. Handful of editions exist as well in the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, among others.

“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,” Columbia University’s Professor James Shapiro said. 

Shakespeare’s portrait sent to space

Filmmaker Jack Jewers made six short films that address themes like space exploration, COVID-19, and the Ukraine war using Shakespeare’s speeches and poems. Jewers did the films in commemoration of the First Folio’s anniversary.

One of Jewers’ shortfilm Lovers and Madmen sent Shakespeare’s portrait in space through a weather balloon. Actor Tom Baker attached the portrait to a weather balloon which sent it to the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Jewers added that a copy of a speech from The Midsummer Night’s Dream was inserted in the portrait. 

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare/Photo via Pinterest @surfaceview

“I like the idea of Shakespeare’s words floating in space along with his image,” Jewers said according to Reuters.
Banner photo via The British Library Shop’s website.

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