Folios of William Shakespeare

The Droeshout portrait of William Shakespeare

The Droeshout portrait of William Shakespeare used on the title page of the First Folio


The Walter Havighurst Special Collections is fortunate to hold a complete set of all Four Folios of the works of William Shakespeare, which were donated to Miami University in 1949 by Dr. O. O. Fisher. Fisher was a Miami alumnus (class of ’09) who went on to become an industrial surgeon and an avid book collector. The First, Second, and Fourth Folios are from the matched set once owned by Lord Leigh. The Third Folio was once a part of the collection of John Gribbel.


Folios of William Shakespeare


Source: Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, online, introduction by Eric Rasmussen, 2/12/08.

During William Shakespeare’s life, (1564-1616), stage plays were written to be acted. Their appearance in print was incidental. At the time of his death, eighteen plays that we now attribute to him had not reached print. They include some of his greatest and most popular – Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatro, Coriolanus, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. These plays, along with alternative versions of some of those that had been printed, survived in manuscripts of various kinds, and were kept at the theater’s where they were performed. At least two of the plays were printed from these manuscripts.

The folio as a format was reserved for only the most expensive and prestigious volumes by the leading theologians, philosophers and historians of the day. A folio devoted to plays was unprecedented. The printing of the 907-page First Folio began early in 1622 and took nearly two years to complete. Of the 36 plays in the Folio, twelve appear to have been set up from earlier printed quartos that had been annotated from a manuscript playbook: Titus Andronicus, Richard III, Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, 1 Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, and The Tragedy of King Lear. The playbooks themselves were apparently used as copy for only three plays in the Folio: Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Macbeth. Another nine were set from Shakespeare’s foul papers: The Taming of the Shrew, The First Part of the Contention (2 Henry VI), Richard Duke of York (3 Henry VI), 1 Henry VI, The Comedy of Errors, Henry V, All’s Well That Ends Well, Timon of Athens, and Antony and Cleopatra. Six were from transcripts made by unidentified scribes: King John, 2 Henry IV, Twelfth Night, Othello, Coriolanus, and All Is True (Henry VIII).

The first folio was so successful and demand apparently so great that a second edition was required within less than a decade. The Second Folio was a carefully corrected page-for-page reprint of the first that made hundreds of minor changes in the text, the majority of which have been accepted by modern editors. The preliminaries of the Second Folio include John Milton’s first published poem, ‘An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatic Poet W. Shakespeare’.

The Third Folio appeared in 1663, with a second issue in 1664 that added Pericles and six apocryphal plays: The London Prodigal, Thomas, Lord Cromwell, Sir John Oldcastle, The Puritan, A Yorkshire Tragedy, and Locrine. The Fourth Folio was published in 1685.

The books of Shakespeare’s time were subject to stop-press correction, with the result that individual copies may differ slightly from each other.