Thursday, November 16, 2023

Book Note: Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book

Smith, Emma. Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

This year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, and that naturally comes with a great deal of study and celebration.

It's hard to determine a specific birthday for the First Folio, but the date it was entered into the Stationers' Register might be a good one: November 8, 1623 (see the entry and read more about it here).

Since I totally missed that, perhaps the date of the first recorded sale of the volume would be in order. Sir Edward Dering bought a copy on December 5, 1623, and I learned that information from Emma Smith's marvelous book Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book (2).

Smith's account of the First Folio is both scholarly and approachable. I recommend it highly for experts and enthusiasts alike. With great attention to contemporary documents and a wealth of anecdotes, Smith covers five different ways of looking at the Folio: Owning, reading, decoding, performing, and perfecting. Each of these separate chapters is fascinating and takes us on a four-hundred-year journey with those subjects as the focus.

I found it hard to extract sample passages from such a full and varied text. Should I show Smith's analyses of how people annotated their First Folios over the years? Should I show the work of the cryptographers who found codes embedded in the First Folio texts in particular? Should I provide something about how actors embraced (or didn't) the First Folio texts for performance?

All that is there, but, instead, I'll provide the part of Smith's introduction where she covers the scope of the book:

Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book is a terrific study of the amazing First Folio, and it's a terrific way to celebrate the book's four hundredth birthday.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

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