Shakespeare's First Folio

There are  a number of Shakespearean treasures in the Sir George Grey Special Collections at the Central City Library. Many of these are from the founding collections donated by Sir George Grey in 1882.

The First Folio was the first edition to collect together 36 of Shakespeare's plays and is a highly prized publication. Without it, Shakespeare's plays would be lost to us. The publication was edited by the actors John Hemminge and Henry Condell and only about 1,000 copies were originally printed.

The library's First Folio is one of just three in the Southern Hemisphere and one of only 228 remaining copies in the world. Thanks to Grey's donation, we are also the only library in NZ with a rare First Folio and a contemporary quarto of one of the plays (Pericles, 1619). The library also hold many publications by Shakespeare's contemporaries, such as Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser and John Donne.

Dr. Emma Smith of Hertford College, University of Oxford University, recently came to NZ to study our First Folio. Despite its rarity and importance, public access to this resource is important to us at Auckland Libraries, something which Dr. Smith remarked on positively.

Ref: William Shakespeare, First Folio Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories & tragedies, printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-C1936
Dr. Smith is writing a biography of the First Folios and gave us a fascinating  insight into our copy. She was also able to share with us some of the commonalities shared by many of the First Folios and more generally, books from this period.

For example, it is surprisingly common to see women’s names written in the folios, so the general assumption that readers in the 17th century were male, is not actually true. Dr. Smith also explained the practice of common placing - which is a method of reading and engaging with the text, which is quite different from our casual form of reading today. Whilst going through the text, the reader notes down quotes that 'move them'. These quotes were then re-arranged and used in the person's writings e.g. letter correspondence. Now you wouldn't pick the most obvious quotes but phrases that could be passed off as your own. Many of the quotes chosen had a moral basis or were about love. You could also buy pre-made books full of these type of quotes ready for use if you simply didn't have the time to read.

Ref: William Shakespeare, First Folio Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories & tragedies, printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries
The pages of the library's First Folio reflect its different owners and use over the passage of time since 1623. This is evident through the hand written annotations in pencil in the folio. These include: names, notes, quotes, practice letter writing, doodles, text corrections and annotations. It is worth bearing in mind that whilst we might find writing in books bad practice, this was very common at the time, since paper was very expensive.

You can browse the many Shakespeare related resources in the heritage collections and find out more about the Sir George Grey Special Collections Shakespeare collections and much more through the online exhibition. For example, you can delve into the practice of grangerizing - which is much like scrap booking today, except illustrations were added to published volumes such as Shakespeare's publications and then rebound.
Ref: William Shakespeare, The Edinburgh Folio Shakespeare, Shaw Collection, Vol III, Section 14, Richards, 1901, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries
There is also a First Folio held at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. This has been digitised and can be accessed online. The website lets you read the publication as an ebook or text and images and download the content.

Author: Natasha Barrett (NB)