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Reading Will

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. 

First Folio 1623; Title Page
First Folio 1623; Title Page

Ben Jonson assessed Shakespeare’s longevity with, He was not of an age, but for all time.The publication of the First Folio in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, did help ensure his immortality. Without it, of his thirty-eight plays, eighteen might have been lost because they had not been previously published. Civilization is forever indebted to Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, for saving these works in the First Folio.

The printed editions of Shakespeare’s works that we read today are the products of modern editorial revisions. These revisions are particularly important with respect to Shakespeare’s works that appeared in multiple quarto editions as well as in the folio edition, e.g., Romeo and Juliet (q1, q2, q3, f), Hamlet (q1, q2, q3, f), and King Lear (q1, q2,  f). These original editions often differed in significant ways. Modern editors decide which passages of which quarto or folio editions are “authoritative.” Even when only the folio edition survives, modern editors will make at a minimum some spelling and punctuation revisions to help modern readers. Or editors may go further and decide that the folio typesetters made some obvious error and revise that.

Some modern Shakespeare editions include the Arden, Cambridge, Oxford, and Signet Classic editions. These editions are periodically updated. The passages on this website are taken from the Folger Shakespeare Library editions, edited by Barbara Mowat, et al. For more on these Folger editions, read Note on the Sources.