The First Folio has been called “incomparably the most important work in the English language.”
First Folios are among the most prized books in the world. The 230 or so surviving copies are treasured for their age and rarity, but mostly for their close association to the world of Shakespeare. In 400 years of literary sleuthing, no manuscripts, letters, books he owned, or other intellectual relics have been found, so this posthumous collection is a way to approach the great author – after all, people who knew the man himself gathered and edited this edition. A First Folio is also a way to connect with Shakespeare’s earliest readers, some of whom have left marginal notes (and food smears) on the pages.
Published in 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare’s death, and purportedly assembled by members of his theater company, the First Folio is the earliest collection of Shakespeare plays. Many of the plays had never before been in print. The book also provided a first glimpse at the face of the author, in the famous engraving by Martin Droeshout. (See this post for more about this controversial portrait.)
There are curiosities about the book that make some scholars wonder if the First Folio has another, secret, history. The introductory pages contain ambiguous and contradictory information about Shakespeare himself, and questions persist concerning the Folio’s production. Why did it take 7 years to produce the posthumous collection? Why didn’t Shakespeare himself coordinate the effort during his years of retirement in Stratford-upon-Avon? After all, Ben Jonson put out his own collected works in 1616. What were the costs involved in producing these expensive reference-sized volumes of nearly 1,000 pages? Why didn’t writers of the day make any reference to the release of the Folio, with its new Shakespeare plays including The Tempest, Macbeth and Twelfth Night? And what surprising discovery have researchers made about the role of Ben Jonson in the creation of the Folio?
Katherine Chiljan, author of Shakespeare Suppressed: The Uncensored Truth about Shakespeare and his Works, joins us to investigate the Mysteries of the First Folio.
Books and articles for further exploration:
- Katherine Chiljan, Shakespeare Suppressed:The Uncensored Truth About Shakespeare and His Works
- Prefatory Material To The First Folio
- Diana Price, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem
- Sir Granville George Greenwood, The Shakespeare Problem Restated
Katherine Chiljan is the author of Shakespeare Suppressed: The Uncensored Truth About Shakespeare and His Works. A graduate of U.C.L.A. and an independent scholar, she has studied the Shakespeare authorship question for over 26 years, and debated the topic with English professors at the Smithsonian Institution and the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco. In April 2012, Chiljan received an award for distinguished scholarship at Concordia University for Shakespeare Suppressed. She has also published two anthologies: Dedication Letters to the Earl of Oxford (1994) and Letters and Poems of Edward, Earl of Oxford (1998). Chiljan has given talks on the Shakespeare Authorship Question and discussed it on radio and tv. She is a former trustee of the Shakespeare-Oxford Society.
Special thanks to our actors:
Mark Waldstein, Chris Ensweiler, and David Anthony Lewis.