'Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally.'
Act 1, Sc. 2
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.
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From the choice of text and meticulously designed pages to the mould-made paper and unsurpassed art of letterpress printing, attention has been lavished on every facet of the reading experience.
The result is a fit and harmonious balance between the internal and external: a volume which is not only a delight to look at and hold, but a joy to read; formed not for mere display, but to satisfy the passion for his language felt by all those who love Shakespeare.
Produced to the highest standards, using only the finest materials and processes, each volume is a work of art in its own right.
The layout of words on a printed page is as much an art as such ancient techniques as Chinese or Arabic calligraphy. Here, the text is designed by eye and set on a manual machine, not a computer. Each letter of type has been created from hot metal in the rarely used 16-point font of 'Monotype' Baskerville, chosen for its clarity and elegance of form. Tiny irregularities testify to the hand-crafted nature of the process, since the shape of each line, the very gap between letters, is adjusted by hand to create the most pleasing overall effect.
Letterpress printing today is used only for the very finest, private press publishing. Running your fingers over the rag-content paper, letterpress is instantly distinguishable from commercial litho printing. You can feel the indentation where each letter has been impressed into the mould-made paper.
To make these beautiful books The Folio Society is calling upon the full resources of a range of artist-craftsmen.
Cotton mixed with pure wood fibres dries slowly on a cylindrical mould to make this specialist paper. When the sheets are removed, the feathered edge at the sides is called the 'deckle'. The high cotton content ensures the paper is stronger and will retain its distinctive quality for generations, which is why artists and galleries choose it for fine art prints and etchings. The pages are folded in sections of eight for a perfectly flat opening to the spine, and only the top edge is trimmed.
Top edge gilding is a traditional finish, protecting books' exposed tops from dust, moisture or atmospheric pollution. The three-quarter binding of finest Nigerian goatskin leather is dyed for an exact match, but the gold and scarlet pattern on the hand-marbled paper sides is unique to each volume, since the exact pattern of droplets can never be repeated. For Ann Muir, marbling the paper for the individual books of Shakespeare's four great tragedies will take nearly half a year of continuous labour.
The small craft bindery of Lachenmaier in Germany has won a record number of prizes in the 125 years it has been binding fine art and speciality books. There, an experienced team of craftsmen sew, case in and bind the book. Both the spine and separate leather label for the solander box are hand-blocked in 22-carat gold.