Foliomania!

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I have a secret admirer. Recently I received a copy of the Folger Library’s new exhibition catalogue, Foliomania: Stories Behind Shakespeare’s Most Important Book, without a note or any accompanying information. It is an impressive volume -- and what is immediately striking is the fact that its format and layout mirrors the First Folio. The colophon confirms this and describes the type, the design, the paper, and the binding. This is one example of how thoughtful editor Owen Williams has been in creating this catalogue.

003281W5.jpgThe catalogue accompanies the Folger’s new exhibit, Fame, Fortune, and Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio (open though Sept. 3 of this year). As Folger Shakespeare Librarian Stephen Enniss writes in the foreword, the exhibit takes up where the 1991 folio exhibit left off and reminds us, “what this iconic book has meant to readers over the years.” Eighty-three First Folios are on exhibit (82 owned by the Folger, plus one private copy), “the most ever assembled in one place since their original dispersal from Jaggards’ print shop.”

Anthony James West, curator of the exhibit, provides a wonderful overview of the exhibit and the catalogue. He explains briefly what each essay covers -- one on the paper by Carter Hailey, one on bindings by Frank Mowery (with great images), one on type by Paul Werstine, one of the Droeshout Portrait of Shakespeare by Erin C. Blake and Kathleen Lynch. Steven Galbraith gives a brief history of the First Folio and the Folger Library -- one of the images that accompanies his essay shows the Folger’s First Folio vault, practical and yet amazing to behold. West offers an essay on Constantine Huygens’ copy of the FF, Steven Escar Smith covers the Shakespeare collections of William Evans Burton and Edwin Forrest, and Don Weingust looks at the FF as an actors’ text. If I had to choose a favorite essay, though, it would be Georgianna Ziegler’s essay on “Gentleman, Ladies, and Folios: The Lure of the Chase.” It details the relationships between Folio collectors, particularly between Mr. and Mrs. Folger, the Halliwell-Phillipps family, and the Burdett-Coutts family. The catalogue ends with an excellent glossary of early printing and Shakespearean terms (e.g., collation, King’s Men, vatman).

All together, this seems less like an exhibition catalogue than a 72-page, well-illustrated book of essays about the First Folio by the foremost experts in the field. The price is $24.95 at the Folger shop; I say take money out of thy purse for this one. 

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