In the 17th century, as many as 18 Shakespeare plays were saved from oblivion when they were published in four editions of his collected works. At work we’ve just placed Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio on display, so in honor, I’m going to tell you why it’s so awesome.
First things first: they’re called Folios because of their size (they’re larger format books, folio-sized books). Now, you might ask, wouldn’t I want a First Folio—the first collected works of Shakespeare—rather than a Fourth Folio? Well, I’m not going to argue with you about the greatness of the First Folio. But the Fourth Folio is important in its own right.
The Fourth Folio is key because it became the foundation text for the major editing projects of the next century, which determined how generations looked at Shakespeare. The (fallacious) idea is that every new edition of a work is going to be the most up to date and correct, so when editors approached the Folios for their base text, they naturally chose the newest edition: the Fourth.
Of course, the Fourth Folio wasn’t the most accurate Shakespeare text, having been “modernized” in its language. But newest is always bestest, as they say, (they say that, right?), and the Fourth Folio became the authority. So much so that owners literally threw away their older Folios because they had supposedly outlived their usefulness.
Threw away Shakespeare Folios! Did I mention that a First Folio is worth millions today?
What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever thrown away?