King's College London
Online Exhibitions
'The very age and body of the time': Shakespeare's world

The Second Folio

Opening from Julius Caesar, from the Second Folio editionOpening from Julius Caesar, from the Second Folio editionThe first complete collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, commonly known as the First Folio, was published in 1623, seven years after the dramatist’s death and under the editorship of two of his friends and fellow members of the King’s Men company of actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell.

It was an expensive volume to produce and to buy, but it sold well, and in 1632 a second edition, the Second Folio, was published, incorporating numerous textual corrections and three additional prefatory poems (including John Milton’s first poetic appearance in print). Reproduced here is an image from a copy of Julius Caesar from the Second Folio edition.

The Second Folio was printed by Thomas Cotes for a syndicate of publishers. It followed the same structure and layout as the First Folio; the plays are grouped according to genre – comedy, history or tragedy – and the text of each play is printed in two columns.

Despite the efforts made to correct some of the textual errors of the First Folio, many marks of carelessness remain. In the opening on display, for example, Cassius’s name is clumsily split between two lines in the first stage direction on page 141. Further evidence of Cotes’ carelessness is the inconsistency in the spelling of the word ‘tragedy’ in the running titles at the head of each page. Spelling, still to some extent a matter of personal inclination in the 16th century, would become increasingly standardised during the 17th, especially in printed texts. Indeed, the proliferation of the printed word was a major force for standardisation; internal inconsistencies, such as that seen here in the running title, would become far less common as the century progressed.

It can be inferred from the pages on display that the printing of Julius Caesar, a play containing a frequent recurrence of proper names ending in the letters ‘us’, posed typographical problems for the printer, who had an inadequate supply of the ‘us’ ligature in his stock of italic type. Mark Antony’s famous speech beginning ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’, seen in the right-hand column of page 141, contains examples of the name ‘Brutus’ both with the ‘us’ ligature and with the final ‘u’ and ‘s’ printed from two separate pieces of type.

In this exhibition


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