Browse Exhibits (6 total)
The significance of folios: The story of Shakespeare’s remarkable rise to global prominence begins with his promotion in the 17th century in a series of large, handsome, folio volumes.“Folio” was the name for the largest books in this period, books made of sheets of paper folded only once to make pages. Due to their size, cost, and careful printing, folios were the 17th century’s most prestigious format. They marked their author and contents as important.
The First Folio presented Shakespeare for the first time as an author of importance (see “Shakespeare’s Folios”). Following its publication, Shakespeare’s reputation briefly rose, then fell during the middle of the 17th century, as Shakespeare’s plays came to seem dated. To secure audiences, theater companies in the later 17th and 18th centuries rewrote nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays. Ironically, these altered plays secured Shakespeare’s lasting fame.
Popular new editions: While 18th-century audiences enjoyed watching changed versions of Shakespeare’s plays (see “Shakespeare’s new plays”), 18th-century readers snapped up “authoritative” editions of Shakespeare’s works, most published by Jacob Tonson, who owned the Folio copyright. In these editions, for the first time, editors attempted to recover the version of each play that they thought Shakespeare intended. They worked from the new – logical – assumption that the changes of past editions, from the Folios on, had generally moved further away from Shakespeare’s drafts. They therefore began to base their new texts on the copies of plays published in Shakespeare’s time – which had not been assembled by “editors” in the modern sense of the word (see “Shakespeare’s Folios”) – and on each other’s editions.
Unusual sonnets: Shakespeare wrote his sequence of linked sonnets just after the popularity of this form had diminished. His sonnet sequence would have seemed striking and unusual to readers when it was published in 1609. Shakespeare flouts the most important rule of sonnet sequences: that they describe a unique desired person. Surprisingly, the speaker of Shakespeare’s sonnets addresses two separate love interests: a beautiful young man who seems to treat him with indifference and a woman whose appearance and morals he is quick to criticize.
Shakespeare’s rising importance in the 18th century coincided with the growing popularity of the novel. Both Shakespeare and novels were valued for focusing on individual, seemingly naturalistic characters and their ways of thinking and changing in response to events. Shakespeare’s dramatic characters were often – sometimes improbably – described as so naturalistic as to seem real.
Shakespeare in school: Shakespeare’s plays, like all other English literature, were not taught in schools until the 18th century. His work was first taught in English colonies in India and elsewhere (see “Colonial and Postcolonial Shakespeare”) and later incorporated into the English grammar school curriculum, where it was seen as the pinnacle of English and literary achievement and a source of moral lessons.
Shakespeare’s rising importance in the 18th century coincided with the growing popularity of the novel. Both Shakespeare and novels were...