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First Folio

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Title page of the First Folio

The First Folio is the common name for the first complete edition of Shakespeare's plays. It was published in 1623. A "folio" is the size of a page. It is believed about 750 copies were printed. In its day, the First Folio was an expensive book. Its original price was 1 pound, the equivalent of about £95–£110 or US$190 to $220 in 2006.

The book is correctly titled, Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. The plays have been categorized into literary genres for the first time: history plays, comedies, and tragedies. These categories have remained in use to the modern age with the addition of "Romances".

The collection was the project of two of Shakespeare's theatrical colleagues: John Heminges and Henry Condell. It contains all of Shakespeare's plays except Pericles, Prince of Tyre, The Two Noble Kinsman, and the two "lost plays", Cardenio and Love's Labour's Won. About half of Shakespeare's plays were printed in what is known as quarto editions during his lifetime. Quarto is the size of a page. It is smaller than a folio. Scholars rely on the First Folio for the texts of the plays not printed in quarto editions.

Few copies of the First Folio are extant, with most being in museum and library collections. Other copies are in the hands of millionaire book collectors. Two hundred twenty-eight copies are still in existence. The most (82) are in the Folger Library in Washington, D.C. The First Folio is one of the most valuable printed books in the world. Copies that arrive at auction realize fabulous prices.


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