2019-2020 Season,  Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Shakespearean Secrets, Part 4

“What secret hath held you here”
-Don Pedro, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Scene i

Shakespeare’s Folio, Copies, & Translations


The First Folio, a collection of 36 out of 42 of Shakespeare’s plays (1623.)


“The story that is printed”
-Leonata, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV Scene i

The First Folio

Shakespeare died in 1616. In 1623, members of his theatre guild posthumously published thirty-six out of his forty-two total Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies in what is known as the First Folio. The style for our production’s Study Guide is based on the style of this antique book. Up until the First Folio was printed, only 18 of Shakespeare’s plays had been published. Prior to this, the plays were published individually in inexpensive, smaller books. A smaller book was nicknamed a quarto because it was a printer’s full sheet of paper folded into quarters; the quarters were then sewn together to form a hand-held size book. The earliest preserved quarto of Much Ado About Nothing was published in 1600. A folio is a printer’s full sheet of paper, folded in half; the halves are then sewn together to form a larger book. 

The cost difference between a quarto for one play and folio of thirty-six was great; while a quarto in Shakespeare’s time would have sold for roughly $6, the First Folio would have sold for $175 (both figures are inflated to reflect USD in 2018). Out of the 750 First Folios printed, only about 235 copies are still in existence and there is a registry of their owners. These priceless copies often pass from one generation to the next or are gifted from an owner to a national museum. It is rare for a First Folio to be put on the auction block, however when they are they fetch millions; the last known transaction of such was sold in London in 2006, for $5,000,000 USD. In 2014, an original First Folio was discovered in a library in Northern France: it had gone undetected for over 200 years. What rare books are lurking on your library’s shelves?


 ”One word more, honest neighbours. I pray you watch about”
-Dogberry, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV Scene ii



“Almost the copy”
-Leonata, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene i


The First Quarto of Much Ado About Nothing, published in 1600.


Original Copies

First edition copies of the quarto or folio will often have notes handwritten in the margins, such as one quarto that writes:  “Kemp” next to Dogberry’s character. The actor, Will Kemp, was their troupe clown. There are also printed differences between the quartos of various plays and the First Folio, as these publications were often pieced together informally from multiple actor’s sides. A side is a printing of only the actor’s lines, with the previous line before each, known as a cue.

The first quarto of Much Ado About Nothing printed a cast list with a “ghost character” not included in the folio. A ghost character is one that is referred to in dialogue, but, even if seen on stage, it does not have any lines. In the quarto version, Leonato has a wife named Innogen, who enters with Leonato in most of his scenes, but doesn’t speak. In our production, the director gave the speaking role of Hero’s parent to her mother, thus Leonata.


“And thou shalt see how apt it is”
-Don Pedro, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Scene i


Do you wish you could look through an original copy of the folio? Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Museum in Washington, D.C., you can view a detailed photocopy of every page of the First Folio online. To read it, click here.

If you click left or right on the detailed image of each page, the website even animates the pages as though being turned in a book. This nearly replicates the experience, without deteriorating the original First Folio, which is preserved in an airtight chamber behind glass. Which of Shakespeare’s plays will you read first in this first edition?


“All this I see; and I see that the fashion wears out more”
-Conrade, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III Scene iii



“Maintain’d the change of words with any creature”
-Hero, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV Scene i


1924 Italian Translation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Coriolanus. Some theories suggest that Shakespeare’s “lost years” were spent sailing in and around Italy, which led him to later include several references to seafaring and Italy in his plays. Some conspiracy theorists even hold to the notion that Shakespeare was born and raised in Italy and later immigrated to England where he reinvented himself, usurping an English upbringing and citizenship.


Other Translations

Other than the Bible, Shakespeare’s works are the most widely published: an estimated 2-4 billion copies are in print and translated into over 100 languages, from Afrikaans to Yiddish. As the Yiddish saying goes, “ibergezetst un farbesert,” which means, “translated and improved!” Editors do their best, but unfortunately, there are discrepancies in the punctuation, the placement of words in a stanza, or even the choice of words in English versions. 

Some of these discrepancies entirely change the meaning of a phrase or situation. For instance, in the First Quarto and First Folio of Much Ado About Nothing, both versions have Benedick and Margaret, the maid, dance at the Masque together in intimate conversation. In later versions, editors ascribe a more singularly focused Benedick and allow another member of the party, Margaret’s lover Borachio, to be her dance partner. How does this change affect Benedick’s character?


“Match me with a good dancer!”
-Margaret, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Scene i

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.