The Letterpress The Winter's Tale
’A sad tale's best for winter: I have one
Of sprites and goblins.'
While not one of the three ‘problem’ plays originally identiﬁed by Boas, The Winter’s Tale soon attracted the same label. The ﬁrst half of the play seems set for tragedy. Leontes suspects his pregnant queen of an adulterous affair with his best friend. He tries to kill his friend, orders the new baby to be abandoned to die, and puts the queen on trial, refusing to believe an oracle that proclaims her innocence. Only when his beloved son dies of grief does Leontes realise his error. Sixteen years pass, and the fourth and ﬁfth acts of the play turn into a pastoral comedy. The baby was found and raised by a shepherd and the prince of Bohemia falls in love with her. The wronged queen is discovered to be alive and everyone is reconciled.
The combination of fairy-tale logic with the psychological realism of much of the drama has troubled many critics. The deaths of the young prince Mamillius and Antigonus (victim of the most famous stage direction in any play: exit, pursued by bear) cast long shadows. It is a stark message that only the unreal magic of the stage or a winter’s tale can return the dead to life; reality permits no such happy ending.
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.