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It was a bold move to publish Shakespeare’s plays as a folio. It was an expensive format, usually used for prestigious books.
A folio is made from large sheets of paper folded in half and then gathered into sections. In the case of the First Folio the single folded pages are gathered into sixes. Each section therefore includes six leaves, making twelve printed pages of text in total.
This means that two pages of text were laid out and printed at a time, and each single piece of paper was printed on both sides. The front of it is known as ‘recto’ and the back as ‘verso’. One sheet of paper was printed with four pages of the First Folio text.
Have a go at making your own folio pages in the activity space.
Photo credit: Image courtesy of The Folger Institute
Watch a short animation from the Folio 400 team to get an idea of how the printing process worked…
The nature of the printing process at the time of the First Folio has ensured that there is no single definitive version. There are many!
Printing at this time wasn’t an exact science. There were many ways for errors and changes to the source material to creep into the final product. Compositors used their own spellings when setting out the type – some preferred ‘heere’ to ‘here’ or ‘doe’ to ‘do.’
Sometimes they ran out of space on a page and had to abbreviate the text. Stage directions were lost, and lines were cut short. Sometimes they may have ended up with too much space and had to fill it with additional lists of actors, or printed ornaments.
The First Folios were proofread, perhaps by publishers Isaac Jaggard or Edward Blount. Corrections were made, especially when the text was simply wrong. However, these corrected proofs were not always discarded, and some have made their way into the final volumes. Paper was expensive and they didn’t want to waste it, mistakes or not.
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