WHAT IS A FOLIO?
A folio is a printed play or book that was created using a printing method that places four pages of text on one large sheet of paper. The paper is then folded in half and bound into a large book. In Shakespeare’s time, a folio printing was expensive and typically reserved for prestigious works. Instead, most of Shakespeare’s works were handwritten during the production, and remained unpublished when he died.
THE FIRST FOLIO
The First Folio refers to the first published version of Shakespeare’s texts. Published in 1623—seven years after Shakespeare’s death—the First Folio was the most complete collection of Shakespeare plays to that date. Without the First Folio, eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost forever, because they were printed for the first time in this collection.
WHO PUT IT ALL TOGETHER?
Two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors and friends, John Heminge and Henry Condell, are responsible for assembling the 36 plays that make up the First Folio. These two individuals had rare access to hand-written scripts and the individual prompt books of the actors. This was important because some earlier editions of Shakespeare’s plays had been released in a smaller, less expensive format.
As the editors say in the forward to the First Folio, these earlier editions were “abused with diverse, stolen, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealths of injurious imposters…” (Heminge and Condell).
How did actors know what to say before the play was printed in a folio?
In Shakespeare’s time printing was expensive and reserved for prestigious works.
Actors would receive a hand-written prompt book that only included their lines.
In rehearsals actors would have to listen to their scene partner to figure out whose line was next.
HOW TO FOLD YOUR OWN FOLIO PRINTING
Divide your paper into 4 boxes. Label the box in the top left Page 1. Then, moving counter clockwise, label the rest of the pages.
Write your play in the boxes, starting with page one, all the way to page 4.
Fold your paper in half horizontally.
Fold your paper in half vertically.
And now you have your very own folio printing!
HOW MUCH DOES A FOLIO COST?
When it was released in 1623, the First Folio sold for 1 pound. With approximately only 228 original copies in existence, it is considered one of the world’s most rare books. In fact, a copy sold at a NYC auction in 2001 for $6,160,000.