This facsimile edition of Macbethis taken from the large and handsome book known simply as the ‘First Folio’, the earliest collected edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies’. It was printed in 1623, seven years after his death. Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays had already been published in the small, cheap format known as quartos during his lifetime, including such favourites as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. The First Folio added another eighteen, including Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night all of which are indispensable to the modern repertory. Without the First Folio only half of Shakespeare’s dramatic output would have survived.The collection was brought together by John Heminge and Henry Condell, fellow-actors of the dramatist and also sharers in his company the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men). They were able to draw on a variety of sources, such as Shakespeare’s own manuscripts, company promptbooks, manuscript fair copies and even the earlier quarto editions. The First Folio title page shows that the intention was to give readers authoritative texts from ‘the True Originall Copies’. In their address ‘To the great Variety of Readers’, Heminge and Condell claim that they are offering not ‘diverse stolne, and surreptitious copies’ but those ‘cur’d and perfect’ as Shakespeare himself had conceived them. They reveal a more commercial aim in their exhortation ‘what ever you do, Buy’. The First Folio must have been an expensive undertaking.
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, drawn again from Holinshed’s ‘Chronicles, although much altered. The First Folio edition is the first ever printing of the play, which is thought to date from 1603 to 1607.