The Letterpress As You Like It
'Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally.'
Celia and Rosalind are two of Shakespeare's most appealing heroines. Their banter is infectious, whether Celia is teasing Rosalind about her love, 'I found him under a tree, like a dropped acorn', or Rosalind provoking Orlando 'like a saucy lackey'. This sparkling new comedy written for the new Globe included songs, special effects and parts tailor-made for new actors. It is presumed that the company had gained a talented young actor for whom the part of Rosalind was written, for the character is given over one quarter of the play's lines. Roger Armin was the company's new clown and Touchstone his first role, while Shakespeare himself is supposed to have acted the part of Adam.
On the surface, As You Like It is a conventional pastoral romance, with improbable conversions, fallings in love and even the unexpected appearance of the God of Marriage. Yet underneath, the play is more complex - nowhere does Shakespeare push the comic possibilities of cross-dressing to such extremes: a boy dressed as a woman dressed as a man pretending to be a woman. An undercurrent of realism in Audrey and Touchstone's earthy liaison and the sarcastic presence of Jaques undercut pastoral idealism without interfering with the playfulness of Shakespeare's illusions. Then as now, theatre-goers leaving the Globe would notice the sign, Totus mundus agit histrionem - all the world's a player.
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.