In late November 1623, Edward Blount finally took delivery at his bookshop at the sign of the Black Bear near St Paul’s of a book that had been long in the making. Master William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies was the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, appearing some seven years after their author’s death in 1616. Its 950 folio pages included thirty-six plays, half of which had not previously been printed, divided under the three generic headings of the title.
There was no fanfare at the book’s arrival. There was nothing of the marketing overdrive that marks an important new publication in our own period: no advertising campaign, no reviews, interviews, endorsements or literary prizes, no queues in St Paul’s Churchyard, no sales figures, price war, copycat publications or bestseller lists – in short, no sensation. Nevertheless, it is hard to overstate the importance of this literary, cultural and commercial moment.
This book, generously illustrated with key pages from the publication and comparative works, tells the human, artistic, economic and technical stories of the birth of the First Folio – and the birth of Shakespeare’s towering reputation.
Emma Smith is Fellow and Tutor in English at Hertford College, Oxford.
- 208 pages, 234 x 156 mm
- 32 pages of colour plates and 8 black and white integrated illustrations
- ISBN: 9781851244423
- Publication December 2015