First Folios were sophisticated from the late eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, when collectors had a heightened desire to own a complete or perfect First Folio no matter how this perfection was achieved. By the late 1700's, most surviving First Folios had already suffered the influence of time. Environment such as temperature, humidity, smoke and use, frequent turning of pages, opening and closing of the book were determining factors in the deterioration of the binding and the text of these books.
The First Folio is a book that people actively read in the early modern period, it was not simply a fixture of decoration. As we note the practice of reading plays from the First Folio with groups of people, such activity could take place in various rooms of the household. In view of various First Folio facsimile editions including a census of original copies extant, we may attribute the poor state of some First Folio copies to their presence on the dining table of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century country houses, where someone read from the book while others were eating, similar to reading practices in certain colleges and universities for educative purposes.
When taking into account the factors highlighted above, the leaves of First Folios which are most likely to get loose and are most frequently missing are those in the preliminary section, the title page, the dedications and in the play Cymbeline, which comes at the end of the book. Finding replacement leaves in other copies of the First Folio became increasingly difficult, since the copies used to sophisticate others often had these leaves missing as well.
The amount and quality of sophistication greatly varies from copy to copy. Several factors explain such variation. The first one is clearly the physical condition of the First Folio and how incomplete it was just before being sophisticated. The skills of the sophisticators and the intention of the sophistication also played a role. As we have seen, missing leaves were often supplied from printed facsimiles. At least five reproductions of the First Folio were produced in the nineteenth century and well over fifty in the twentieth century. Publishers of these books used the latest technology available to them with mixed results.
In preparing this edition, we have been fortunate to draw on the experience of several academics specializing in Shakespearean literature.
Our thanks go to them all for sharing their thoughtful consideration and time with us. ×