A Folio Society limited edition

The Letterpress Richard II

William Shakespeare

Richard II is arguably the greatest of Shakespeare’s histories, containing some of Shakespeare’s most magnificent poetry, from Gaunt’s paean to England to Richard’s despairing lament.

Published price: US$ 545.00


The Letterpress Richard II

'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

Production Details

The Letterpress Richard II book
    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".

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. 


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Review by PAULALOUD on 3rd Mar 2016

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"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]

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