First FolioFrom Our Collections Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was a popular and important writer in his own lifetime, but his plays were not gathered and printed as a single work until after his death. That 1623 publication, known now as the First Folio, is one of the most iconic books in the English language.
It is today known as the "First Folio" because it is the first book of its size—folio is a term for book format—to collect Shakespeare's plays. The Second, Third, and Fourth Folios (which we also have) came later. In the early 1600s, the large folio format was usually reserved for "important" topics like history or religion, not popular drama. When plays were published, they were usually printed more cheaply in smaller formats, a little bit like today's mass-market paperbacks. To print a collection of plays (and nothing but plays) as a big expensive book is to make an argument about how important these plays were, and that's what the First Folio did.
While the First Folio is one of the most deeply-studied printed books, it is not exactly "rare." More than 200 copies survive in some form, and about 40 of them are "complete"—that is, not missing any pages.
Like any 400-year-old book, each surviving copy of the First Folio has its own history. That said: our copy is special—this "Milton First Folio" is thought to have been owned by English poet John Milton (1608–1674). While many collectors had their books rebound in "luxurious" covers, this copy is unusual for surviving in a 17th-century binding.
The Free Library First Folio was known for the handwritten notes and markings made by an early reader. Called "marginalia," they are signs of how a book was used. In September 2019 two scholars, Dr. Claire M.L. Bourne and Dr. Jason Scott-Warren, shared their exciting discovery that the dedicated reader was John Milton. Hundreds of years after the First Folio was published, it can still tell us new stories.
You can download the full PDF (it is a long book!) or scroll through the small thumbnails below and view or save higher-resolution images of each page. There is a table of contents that will take you to specific plays and there is also a special kind of "structural contents" for researchers. There are no copyright restrictions and you can use the images however you like (but please credit "Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia").
The Rare Book Department is grateful to the care and time the Free Library of Philadelphia's Collection Care and Digital teams have devoted to this project. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or suggestions about the Free Library First Folio or its digital version.
Table of Contents
- To the Reader
- [Title Page]
- [Epistle Dedicatory]
- To the great Variety of Readers
- To the memory of my beloued
- Upon the Lines and Life
- A Catalogue
- To the Memorie of the deceased Authour
- The Names of the Principall Actors
- The Tempest
- The Two Gentlemen of Verona
- The Merry Wives of Windsor
- Measure for Measure
- The Comedie of Errors
- Much adoe about Nothing
- Loues Labour's Lost
- A Midsommer Nights Dreame
- The Merchant of Venice
- As you Like it
- The Taming of the Shrew
- All's Well, that Ends Well
- Twelfe Night, Or what you will
- The Winters Tale
- The life and death of King John
- The life and death of King Richard the Second
- The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry Sirnamed Hot-Spurre
- The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, Containing his Death : and the Coronation of King Henry the Fift
- The Life of Henry the Fist
- The first Part of Henry the Sixt
- The second Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Good Duke
- The third Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Duke of Yorke
- The Tragedy of Richard the Third
- The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight
- The Tragedie of Troylus and Cressida
- The Tragedy of Coriolanus
- The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus
- The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet
- The Life of Tymon of Athens
- The Tragedie of Julius Caesar
- The Tragedie of Macbeth
- The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke
- The Tragedie of King Lear
- The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice
- The Tragedie of Anthonie, and Cleopatra
- The Tragedie of Cymbeline