'How long a time lies in one little word!
Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
End in a word: such is the breath of kings.' Act 1, Sc. 3
Richard II is arguably the greatest of Shakespeare’s histories, containing some of Shakespeare’s most magnificent poetry, from Gaunt’s paean to England, ‘This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle’ to Richard’s despairing lament ‘For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground, / And tell sad stories of the death of kings’.
The autocratic Richard sets off a disastrous chain of events when he banishes his cousin Henry Bolingbroke to exile in France. Jealousy over royal favourites leads ambitious noblemen into open rebellion. As he faces the growing threat to his throne and indeed his life, Richard reaches a tragic understanding of power, identity and the nature of kingship. His belief in the Divine Right of kings, though ultimately defeated by Bolingbroke’s pragmatism, is expressed in poetry of such splendour that we are drawn to sympathise with him despite his ﬂaws. The speech in which he accepts his deposition has the intensity of Shakespeare’s greatest tragic heroes:
'Down, down I come, like glistering Phaëton,
In the base court? Base court where kings grow base
To come at traitors’ calls and do them grace.
In the base court come down: down court, down king,
For night-owls shriek where mounting larks should sing.' Act 3, Sc. 3
Limited to 1,000 copies, individually numbered on a special limitation page.
Quarter-bound in goatskin leather, blocked in gold with hand-marbled paper sides; gilded top edge and ribbon marker.
Set in 16pt 'Monotype' Baskerville, printed by letterpress on mould-made paper.
Oxford University Press text, edited by Anthony B. Dawson & Paul Yachnin under the General Editor Stanley Wells.
Presented together with a commentary volume which includes the text of the play with full explanatory notes.
Supplied in a buckram-bound solander box measuring 15" x 11" x 2¾". Letterpress volume: 14" x 10¾".
Commentary volume: bound in buckram. 8¾" x 5¾".
Letterpress Shakespeare volumes are bound to order and may take up to 6 weeks to be delivered
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.
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.
"This letterpress edition exceeds expectations. Richard II along with Henry V are my favorite history plays from the Henriad collection. Folio Society's treatment of this lyrically beautiful play wit..." [read more]
"This letterpress edition exceeds expectations. Richard II along with Henry V are my favorite history plays from the Henriad collection. Folio Society's treatment of this lyrically beautiful play with the gilded edge, satin ribbon marker, hand-marbled artisan work in a rich violet blue and matching dyed goatskin leather makes this a visually stunning edition. There are of course no illustrations, but the page layout is visually pleasing, highly readable and captures the text beautifully. One of my all-time favorite Shakespeare quotes is captured in this historic-tragedy play:
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
The exquisite lyricism of Richard II stands out from the other history plays and we find Richard valuing his kingship only after he has lost it to his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. Richard's character really transforms when he comes to the realization that the crown is slipping away from him:
"Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm off from an anointed king; …
For every man that Bolingbroke hath press'd
To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown,
God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay
A glorious angel: …
(III. ii. 54-61)
Thank you, Folio, for a Letterpress Edition I will treasure for a lifetime. The stunning lyricism in Richard II finally has an equally stunning visual accompaniment in this beautiful production." [hide full review]