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Home :: Archive :: 1991 :: April ::
Review: Peter Blayney's *The First Folio*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 102. Friday, 12 Apr 1991.
Date:         Fri, 12 Apr 91 08:17:33 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <
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Subject:      Review: Peter Blayney's *The First Folio of Shakespeare*
Since SHAKSPER's inception, I have tried to encourage
members to submit reviews of critical books and articles,
both as a resource for others and a stimulus to discussion.
Finally I am going to practise what I've been preaching --
although admittedly I'm starting small.
You may recall that I recently announced the publication of
Peter W.M. Blayney's *The First Folio of Shakespeare*, an
exhibition catalogue (and a contribution to scholarship in
itself) published by the Folger Library, Washington DC,
1991.  My copy arrived in the mail today, and I'm going to
take this opportunity for a brief review, just in case some
are considering ordering it, or will never see it.
The book itself is a glossy 46 pages, lavishly illustrated
with black and white facsimiles, maps, and photographs.
Blayney leads the reader on a brisk, wide-ranging ramble
through the political and practical worlds of Jacobean
bookselling, printing, and binding, occasionally stopping to
examine an interesting gem in great detail, but usually
racing over vast landscapes in rapid succession.  For
undergraduates, or even high school students, interested in
the publication of Shakespeare's plays, it provides a handy
introduction to the worlds of physical and analytical
Nowhere else have I seen maps of the bookshops in St. Paul's
churchyard side-by-side with facsimiles demonstrating stop-
press corrections, compositor padding and cramming, proof
sheets, promptbook annotation, broken types, and so much
more.  The volume offers a convenient "anthology" of
facsimiles, demonstrating a variety of textual and
bibliographical principles, and as such I suspect it could
be a very valuable pedagogical tool.
Blayney is writing for the general reader, certainly, but at
times the scholar may feel left behind too.  Presumably vast
research underlies some of the offhand assertions made in
this book, but I for one was left wanting references,
evidence, or more explanation in a number of places.  (There
are no footnotes or references in the entire book).  For
example, Blayney assures us that "the usual estimate of 1200
copies is unrealistically high.  The fact that the book was
reprinted after only nine years suggests a relatively small
edition -- probably no more than 750 copies, and perhaps
fewer."  Blayney doesn't take the time to convince the
Some of Blayney's findings are original and quite
intriguing.  He finds an F1 page which has picked up a
distinct image from the press's tympan, of an engraving
published at roughly the same time in Andrew Favyn's
*Theatre of Honour and Knighthood*.  He examines the issues
of copyright and sale prices (wholesale and retail) in
considerable depth, concluding that, although a folio bound
in calf might fetch one pound, the average folio bought in
London probably cost only 15 shillings.  Most surprising,
Blayney finds an annotation on the back of one copy, "at ye
Returne to allow 5s-6d," signed by Thomas Bourne, a London
bookseller who apparently rented the folio to at least one
interested purchaser with a security deposit.
About half of the volume is devoted to a discussion of the
unique characteristics of particular copies in the Folger
collection, which is inevitable, I suppose, in an exhibition
catalogue.  Blayney is intrigued by the rust marks left
behind by binding scissors and spectacles, the doodlings of
early owners, and the possible theatrical provenance of
particular copies.  Discussions of Eighteenth and Nineteenth
Century forgeries, repairs, and patchings are interesting to
an extent, but were certainly not the highlight of the book
so far as I was concerned.  Naturally, too, there is a brief
tribute to Henry Clay Folger, and his wife Emily, and a
short narration of his expensive quest for particularly
valued folios, like the presentation copy given to Augustine
Vincent by Jaggard himself, or the copy supposed signed by
Samuel Gilburne.
This volume is most valuable, however, in its brief and
lucid explanation of the printing process of the first
folio, the copyright problems which complicated the
inclusion of *Timon of Athens* and *Troilus and Cressida*,
and the three issues of the Folio which resulted.  In a
single centrespread, with seven reduced facsimiles, Blayney
manages to make perfectly clear the three stages in the
belated addition of *TC* to F1.
Blayney's book taught me the most in the last few pages, in
which he discusses the number of copies of F1 that the
Folger Library actually owns.  Although usually explained as
"79 copies... and numerous fragments," Blayney explains that
some of the so-called "copies" actually contain fewer pages
than some of the so-called "fragments."  Only 13 of the
Folger First Folios are complete, fewer than half have
original title pages, and several are simply boxes of
assembled leaves from various fragments.  I also did not
realize the extent to which collectors in the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries would cannibalize damaged copies
to "complete" less damaged copies of the First Folio; very
few first folios are as they were first sold.  Folger also
collected copies of a "leafbook" entitled *A Noble
Fragment*, each copy of which apparently contained an
original leaf of F1.  Blayney seems to prefer to say "over
eighty," or even "fourscore and upward," when asked to
number the Folger copies.
Ultimately, the Folger First Folios represent a wide
spectrum, from complete copies to single leaves, and there
is no firm line between copies and fragments.  (Perhaps we
could subtitle this section "The Instability of *Folger's*
Shakespeare Texts"... .)  In any event, as Blayney observes,
"the fact remains that Forty Folio Folger earned his
unprecedented nickname *twice*."
Nonetheless, the Folger's collection of Folios is, of
course, unparalleled, and I sincerely hope I will be able to
see the first public exhibition of so many of them at once.
It runs April 1st to September 21st, 1991.  I also recommend
Blayney's exhibition catalogue, as a useful introduction and
summary, and a sourcebook for teaching about the first
appearance of Shakespeare's texts.
                                     Ken Steele
                                     University of Toronto

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