The Letterpress Cymbeline
'Fear no more the heat o’th’ sun
Nor the furious winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task has done'
Although classified in the 1623 Folio as tragedy, Cymbeline defies categorisation. With his two sons stolen in infancy, Cymbeline’s only heir is his daughter Innogen; the Queen, his second wife, schemes for Innogen to wed her son Clotus, but in defiance Innogen weds a commoner who is soon banished by the King. Lives are threatened, loyalties tested and the eventual resolution is both problematic and thrilling.
With its complex plotting and dark undertones Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s most puzzling works. In Innogen, Shakespeare brings to bear the greatest attributes of his many heroines. She acts as the anchor to an enigmatic play, the concluding scene of which has more elaborate revelations, surprises and twists than any in the canon.
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.