I imagine that you’re all thinking the same thing I’m thinking in the lead-up to April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday/deathday: Where can I find a good online facsimile of the First Folio? And I’m here to tell you the answer: In many places! In fact, by my count, there are at least
seven eight nine ten eleven different copies of the First Folio that are online in at least reasonably high-resolution facsimiles.
But here we must pause a moment, in case there are some of you wondering a) why would one need a high-quality online facsimile of F1 and b) why would one be so excited that there were so many? And I can tell you the answer to this, as well, based on my own experience. Recently I was working on an edition of The Taming of the Shrew and was comparing my text with that of the Folio to make sure I’d caught and listed all the emendations that had been made. That right there is a good reason to want to consult a First Folio: if you are reading (or editing) a play and you want to understand how the edited text you’re working with compares with the early printed texts of the play (especially if you’re working with one of the 18 plays that appeared in print for the first time in the 1623 Folio), ((See Appendix 1 below)) you might want to look at F1 for yourself to identify those changes. In this case, I was reading through the fourth act of one of the Folger’s digitized First Folios when I came across this:
To my eye, especially compared to the “prove” in the line above it, it certainly looks like Lucentio was suggesting that Bianca would “ptove Mistresse of my heart.” But I wanted to look at other copies to see if this was an idiosyncrasy of this copy, a stop-press change that wasn’t yet made, or if it showed up in more copies. And in all the copies I looked at, the text read “ptove.” While “ptove” seems to have gone uncorrected, other pages in other copies of the First Folio show a range of stop-press changes, so that one copy might vary from another. For instance, these two copies show a corrected and uncorrected state of Lucius’s name in a stage direction from Titus Andronicus:
This isn’t a particularly exciting variant, although it does illustrate that mistakes were made in printing the First Folio and that someone acted as a proof-reader to correct those mistakes. ((See Peter Blayney’s The First Folio of Shakespeare (Folger 1991) (and linked below) for an overview of this, Charlton Hinman’s The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare (Clarendon P, 1963) for a detailed explanation of such changes, and Eric Rasmussen and Anthony James West’s The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Catalogue (Palgrave 2012) for a list of all such corrections and an account of which changes appear in which copies.))
To the point, now: Where can you find digital facsimiles of the First Folio to work with? I hope you’ll forgive me for starting off with two of my favorites, copies that are part of the Folger’s own collection of 82 First Folios. It’s not simply my bias in favor of my institution, but my bias in favor of high-quality, cover-to-cover digitization.
The Folger’s copy 5 was digitized by Octavo as part of its series of high-resolution facsimiles of early books and manuscripts. This means that copy is available both as part of the Folger’s Digital Image Collection and as a pdf (links to both are provided in the catalog record). The images in the Digital Image Collection have the advantage of being lightweight: you can read them online and can enlarge them to see details without loading the entire book. Conversely, the pdf is handy because you can download it and access it offline. It also comes with a rich body of paratextual material, including essays by Stephen Orgel, A.R. Braunmuller, and Arthur Freeman as well as Peter Blayney’s wonderful booklet on the First Folio from the Folger’s 1991 exhibit. ((The pdf currently linked to in Hamnet seems to have been corrupted; while you can access the paratextual material, excepting Blayney’s, you cannot currently get to the First Folio. That’s in the process of being corrected, but in the meantime, you can continue to find copy 5 in Luna and you can also find Blayney’s work at the University of Pennsylvania’s Furness collection.))
The Folger’s copy 68 is also viewable in the Digital Image Collection and as a pdf (again, links to both are in the catalog record). The resolution of the images in Luna are higher than those of copy 5, but the pdf’s resolution is lower. ((The pdf also needs to have most of its pages rotated; I like to use this resource to rotate and split pdfs.)) I tend to work with copy 68 online, but to use copy 5 for offline consultation.
If you’re looking for other digital, open-access facsimiles of the First Folio, you can find copies from Meisei University (an amazing copy chock full of seventeenth-century marginalia), University of Pennsylvania (their Furness collection includes plenty of other digitized Shakespeare as well), Miami University of Ohio, and Brandeis University and New South Wales (both hosted at Internet Shakespeare Editions, along with other Shakespeares). It’s a boon to scholars to have so many rich resources available, and I’m sure other digital copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio will be added to this collection and that we’ll benefit from this ongoing access and increased range of interfaces for working with F1. UPDATE (22 April 3:50 pm): The Bodleian has just released their First Folio digitization. I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, but am excited to see it now available! UPDATE (20 May 2013): Stuttgart also has their First Folio online; thanks to H. J. Neuhaus for calling attention to this in the comments below. UPDATE (10 March 2014): The Folger has just digitized their copy no. 9 (catalog record | digital images); more First Folios should be coming online as part of the preparations for the 2016 exhibition and national tour. UPDATE (3 MARCH 2015): The newly discovered First Folio in the library of St Omer, France, has now been digitized as well.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about the First Folio, the Folger did an interesting exhibit on it in 2011, and you can find excerpts from that online; you can also buy Peter Blayney’s booklet in addition to finding it online or as a pdf. And if you ever find yourself the proud owner of a First Folio, may I suggest you take some inspiration from the owner of the Folger’s copy 5, Angela Bourdett-Coutts, and provide some fancy housing for it?
Wondering which plays appeared only in the First Folio? All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, 1 Henry VI, Henry VIII, Julius Caesar, King John, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Taming of the Shrew, Tempest, Timon of Athens, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Winter’s Tale.
The following plays appeared in both quarto editions prior to F1 and in F1: Hamlet, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Henry V, 2 Henry VI (as 1 Contention), 3 Henry VI (as Richard Duke of York), King Lear, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Merchant of Venice, Merry Wives of Windsor, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Richard II, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Troilus and Cressida.
Three plays that we now attribute to Shakespeare did not appear in the First Folio: Edward III (first published in quarto in 1596), Pericles (1609), and Two Noble Kinsmen (1634).
Because I looked it up and you might be wondering for your own research, here’s the list of uncorrected pages that can be found in the online facsimiles (taken from Rasmussen and West):
Folger copy 5 (West 63): D2, L5, d1, m3, dd2, dd2v, ee5, ff2, ff5v, ss3, zz6v (original leaf E5 missing)
Folger copy 68 (West 126): D2, H5v, L5, S2, S5v, V1, m3, v3, x6v, ee5, ff2, ff5v, zz6v
Meisei (West 201): D2, e1, d3v, q4v, aa6v, dd4, kk6v, x6v, zz4v
Penn (West 180): B3v, D2, e5, k5, m3, x6v, dd2v, dd6v, ff1v, ff6, ss3 (ΠA1+1, bbb6 missing)
Miami (West 174): B3v, C4, L5, S5v, V1, d1, d5, m3, x6v, y5v, dd6v, 335, gg1v, qq5v, rr2, ss3r, ss4, ss4v, x6 (ΠA1 missing)
Brandeis (West 153): A1v, D2, S5v, d1, m3, x6v, dd2, dd4, dd6v, ee5, kk6v, zz6v (ΠA1-6, aaa1, aaa6, bbb1, bbb5, bbb6 missing)
New South Wales (West 192): no uncorrected leaves listed (ΠA1, ΠA1+1 missing)
Update (29 April 2013): Bodleian (West 31): D2, V1, m3, qq5v, ss3; qq2v in third state (ΠA1 missing)
Update (20 May 2013): Stuttgart (West 197): D2, L5, S5v, V1, m3, q6v, ss3, vv2v, vv3, vv4v