The Letterpress King Henry VIII
'She shall be, to the happiness of England,
An aged princess. Many days shall see her,
And yet no day without a deed to crown it'
Henry VIII is perhaps most famous as the play which quite literally brought the house down: during one of the early performances in 1613 a special stage effect (the firing of a cannon) set light to the Globe’s thatch and destroyed the theatre.
The play’s pageantry and spectacle made it a thrilling performance piece, although its subject matter was a dangerous choice. Henry’s reign, his marriages, the confused succession and the religious controversy was dynamite politically during both Elizabeth’s and James’ reigns. Shakespeare had to select carefully from the events of Henry’s reign, which were, after all, extremely recent. The result is a fascinating tightrope-walk between diplomacy and drama. The play ends with the birth of Elizabeth I, thus side-stepping the later controversies of Henry’s reign, but Shakespeare does not shy away from Henry’s cruel treatment of Katherine of Aragon, whose heart-rending appeal against her divorce is reproduced almost word for word from the historical record:
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.