About the First Folio

Many of Shakespeare's plays, which were written to be performed, were not published during his lifetime. The First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. It was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. Two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors compiled 36 of his plays, hoping to preserve them for future generations. Without it, we would not have 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including MacbethJulius CaesarTwelfth NightThe TempestAntony and CleopatraThe Comedy of Errors, and As You Like It. All 18 appear for the first time in print in the First Folio, and would otherwise have been lost.

“The First Folio is the book that gave us Shakespeare. Between its covers we discover his most famous characters—Hamlet, Desdemona, Cordelia, Macbeth, Romeo, Juliet and hundreds of others—speaking words that continue to move and inspire us,” said Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “Shakespeare tells the human story like no one else. He connects us to each other, to our history, and to themes and ideas that touch us every day. We are delighted that we can share this precious resource with people everywhere, from San Diego, California to Gurabo, Puerto Rico, from Eugene, Oregon to Duluth, Minnesota.”

The Folger Shakespeare Library holds 82 copies of the First Folio, by far the largest collection in the world and more than a third of the 233 known copies in the world today. It is believed that 750 copies were originally printed.

The Shakespeare First Folio is one of the most valuable printed books in the world; a First Folio sold for $6.2 million in 2001 at Christie’s and another one for $5.2 million in 2006 in London. It originally sold for one British pound (20 shillings)—about $200 today.