The first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays printed in 1623 – known as the First Folio – has a rich history. It is estimated that around 700 or 750 copies were printed, and today we know the whereabouts of over 230. They exist in some form or another, often incomplete or a combination of different copies melded together, in libraries and personal collections all over the world. The very recent announcement that another copy of the First Folio has been discovered in a library in Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland, highlights the spread of these valuable books. Since 1623 copies have been under auctioneers’ hammers, stocked on booksellers’ shelves, coveted by collectors, forged by counterfeiters, studied by scholars, and pored over by actors learning their lines. The First Folio has become the book through which we understand and recognise Shakespeare, as a large number of his plays may have been lost if they had not been gathered together following his death in 1616.
In the map below explore a selection of locations associated with copies of the First Folio over the last four centuries. It is clear from marginalia, ink blots, and wine rings that these books have certainly not always been treasured items kept locked in a casket. From Oxford and Birmingham to Los Angeles and Toyko, copies of the First Folio have found their way across the globe.
Featured image credit: First Folio in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, USA. CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.