The Letterpress Twelfth Night
'Oh Time, thou must untangle this, not I.
It is too hard a knot for me t' untie!'
In Tudor times, twelfth night was the feast of 'misrule' marking the end of Christmas festivities, where the natural order was often turned topsy-turvy. Shakespeare's plot includes a servant seeking to marry his mistress, women dressed as men and attendant confusions and mistakes - all favourite examples that hark all the way back to the Roman feast of Saturnalia. Shakespeare may well have written the play for a court entertainment performed in 1601 (finding his Duke's name from the Duke Orsini who had visited court that year). Many commentators believe that his portrait of the kill-joy Malvolio was intended to poke fun at the Puritans who disapproved of twelfth night festivities - and, of course, of the theatre itself. Set against Malvolio are the excesses of Sir Toby Belch, and yet his drunkenness is sympathetically viewed: 'Dost think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?'
From the witty banter of Sir Toby and Maria, the wry commentary of Feste and the foolishness of Sir Andrew to the emotionally charged moment of the discovery of the twins, this is a play whose range and humour have delighted audiences for centuries and which remains irresistibly fresh today.
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.