A Folio Society limited edition

The Letterpress Sonnets and Poems

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's meditations on love, beauty and time remain some of the most beloved poetry ever created, still fresh and moving after over 400 years.

Published price: US$ 625.00


The Letterpress Sonnets and Poems

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
Sonnet 17

Shakespeare’s poetic command of the English language is unparalleled. His Sonnets, with their intensely personal meditations on love, beauty and time, reveal a private aspect of his genius, giving us the greatest possible insight into Shakespeare the man, as well as the poet. His earlier narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, showcase his unique gift for drama and characterisation.

Production Details

The Letterpress Sonnets and Poems book
  • Limited to 1980 copies, individually numbered on a special limitation page
  • Presented together with a Commentary volume in a buckram-bound solander box: 15¼˝ x 11˝x 4˝
  • Set in ‘Monotype’ Baskerville, printed by letterpress on mould-made paper.
  • Quarter-bound in goatskin leather
  • Hand-marbled paper sides, gilded top edge. Ribbon marker
  • 288 pages. Book Size: 14˝ x 10¾˝

Letterpress Shakespeare volumes are bound to order and may take up to 6 weeks to be delivered

Poetry for all time

This is poetry for all time, to be read and reread. In this Folio Society limited edition, Shakespeare’s poetical works are gathered together in a single volume that does full justice to their eternal beauty. All are included: the narrative poems, the complete Sonnets, A Lover’s Complaint and the allegory ‘Let the bird of loudest lay’. Shakespeare intended that his poetry should last forever: this edition is a fitting tribute to that wish.

An immortal portrait of the human heart

Shakespeare’s Sonnets form the cornerstone of his lyric genius. They contain some of the most celebrated lines in the canon: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’, ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’, ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’. Their themes are universal – the trials of love, the transience of human beauty and the eternity of art. Yet Shakespeare broke with sonnet convention by combining these themes with more everyday concerns such as loneliness, professional disappointment and the beauty of the seasons, and with homely images such as a distracted housewife or a nervous actor. The result is that the Sonnets present a portrait of the human condition, seen through the prism of the poet’s emotions.

'Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me for my name is 'Will.'
Sonnet 136

The autobiographical clues within the Sonnets have tantalised readers for centuries. The poet addresses two characters throughout – the ‘fair youth’ and the ‘mistress’ or ‘dark lady’ – whose identities still remain unknown. The ‘onlie begetter’ of the Sonnets’ dedication, Mr W. H., is another mystery. Whatever the historical facts, the personal nature of the Sonnets is undeniable. ‘And then thou love’st me – for my name is “Will”.’ ‘So will I pray that thou may’st have thy Will.’ The poet’s very name is used to express the fears and hopes of love, leading Wordsworth to declare that, ‘With this key, /Shakespeare unlocked his heart.’

‘Nor marble, nor the gilded monuments Of princes shall outlive this pow’rful rhyme’
Sonnet 55

The wealth of Shakespeare’s poetical works in one superb volume

This edition is exceptional in presenting the Sonnets alongside Shakespeare’s narrative poems Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594) and other verse. Venus and Adonis was the first work Shakespeare ever published under his name, and was so popular that it was joked that young men slept with it under their pillows. The story of Venus and her doomed love for the beautiful young Adonis is filled with rich, sensual imagery and humour, reminiscent of comedies like Much Ado About Nothing. In Lucrece, Shakespeare created an eloquent heroine, full of dignity and pathos. Many of the themes explored in Shakespeare’s works, such as unrequited love and the reversing of male and female roles, were first developed in these poems.

Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 18

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 lettepress 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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