Shakespeare's finest and most romantic verse
Shakespeare wrote some of his finest and most romantic verse in Romeo and Juliet, yet the play also dances with comedy in the matchless characters of the Nurse and Mercutio, who jests even as he dies: ‘ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man’. Yet for all the semi-comic shifts as plans go awry, the play ends in true pathos: Montagues and Capulets reconciled too late, at too heavy a cost.
'For never was there a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.'
Romeo and Juliet was also one of the most popular plays during Shakespeare’s lifetime. It was printed in no fewer than four quartos before the First Folio, the first appearing in 1597 and stating, ‘it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely’. John Weever, a contemporary, wrote a sonnet to Shakespeare, praising him as the creator of ‘Romeo, Richard, more whose names I know not’. Romeo, the archetypal lover, was one of Shakespeare’s most famous creations, contributing to the contemporary view of him as a love poet, ‘mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare’. Dryden and Dr Johnson were among later enthusiasts for the romance of the ‘star-crossed lovers’.
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.