The Letterpress All's Well That Ends Well
’Twere all one
That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so far above me.
A poor physician’s daughter, Helena has dared to fall in love with the young Count Bertram. After she cures the king who was suffering from a terrible disease, she asks for Bertram’s hand in marriage as a reward. Undaunted by his contemptuous rejection, Helena contrives to gain his ring and become pregnant by him, all without his knowledge. The play ends with Bertram agreeing to honour the forced marriage.
George Bernard Shaw called it ‘a bitter play with a bitter title’, although he greatly admired the female characters, thinking the Countess ‘the most beautiful old woman’s part ever written’. Other nineteenth-century critics were appalled by Helena’s bold pursuit of Bertram, while all commentators have struggled with Bertram himself – is he a spoilt boy, or a rogue? Does the ending offer happiness or is the play’s title ironic? Many have noted the king’s ambiguous words, ‘All yet seems well’, and the conditional in Bertram’s promise: ‘If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly,/I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly’.
Creating The Letterpress Shakespeare
Since the First Folio in 1623 there have been countless editions of Shakespeare's works. The Folio Society wanted to do something unprecedented: to design an edition so pure, so simple, that the beauty of the text could be fully appreciated - an edition that would be as timeless as the text itself.
What would the ideal version of Shakespeare's works look like? What would result if simplicity and elegance were the goal rather than the dictates of fashion and cost efficiency?
These were the questions we asked ourselves when we embarked on our Letterpress Shakespeare series in 2006. The project was to occupy some of Europe's finest book designers, typesetters, paper-makers, printers and bindersfor eight years.
The starting point was the text. Rather than keep text and commentary together, we decided to put them into separate volumes. Out went the elements that clutter the page : footnotes and textual variants. All that was left was Shakespeare's words.
We decided to have the text printed by letterpress in 16-point Baskerville. The type is set in hot metal and impressed on thick, mouldmade paper. The margins are generous - over 6 centimetres - to allow the words room to breathe.
The result is a simple, understated design that is a delight to read and a pleasure to hold.
Read more about how we made the Letterpress Shakespeare
Inside the Letterpress Process
Stan Lane, a master Typesetter and Printer, talked to us about the process of printing our letterpress Shakespeare. Lane has been setting type for The Folio Society for 25 years and is one of the few craftsmen still skilled in the fine art of letterpress printing. Although labour-intensive, letterpress has a depth and elegance that modern printing cannot replicate.
Jemma Lewis talked to us about the process of hand marbling paper for the letterpress Shakespeare.
In this beautiful process droplets of oil are floated on a special solution and combed into patterns so that each sheet of paper bears a unique design.