First Folio Day 

Shakespeare, Shakespeare, nothing but Shakespeare, as we celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the First Folio. In other words the first complete works, published in 1623 by Blount & Jaggard, prepared for publication by his old friends, John Heminges and Henry Condell, the plays as we have known them ever since, always in the same random order.

I still have a nice old leather-bound complete works that belonged to my father, given to him by my mother for Christmas in 1935. I also have the leather-bound bible that she gave him for his birthday the following year. One of these days I will have them both re-bound. The Shakespeare in particular has suffered from over-use, the bible less so.

A few years ago I decided to give the old complete works a well-earned rest and bought a new edition with the plays in chronological order. This re-ordering is, in my opinion, a welcome break with tradition, letting me see at a glance when history gave way to comedy, comedy to tragedy, tragedy to neither one nor the other but something of both.

Other breaks with tradition are less welcome. Re-ordering is helpful, re-imagining quite unnecessary, except for the young directors who hope to make their mark that way. The only way now to see Shakespeare as Shakespeare intended is to read his plays, not to see them performed. The complete works, however ordered, will always be needed by readers who admire Shakespeare, if not by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the like.

So hip-hip-hooray for First Folio day!


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