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CFP: 2023 Annual Congress of the French Shakespeare Society, “Folio & Co: Shakespeare and the Theatrum Libri 

March 23-25th, 2023 Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe, Cité Internationale, Paris 14e

 « I would argue that literature exists only and always in its materializations, and that these are the conditions of its meaning rather than merely the containers of it » 

David Scott Kastan, Shakespeare and the Book 


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To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare First Folio’s publication, the French Shakespeare Society (Société Française Shakespeare) wishes to dedicate its 2023 conference to studying not only what is one of the most famous (and most expensive) books in the world, but to integrate it in a broader exploration of the role played by the folio format in the history of books, literature and ideas, as well as of its potential life on stage. 


More than just a large book, the folio is a format that carries specific meaning, in a way that smaller formats do not. It will naturally be noted that the 1623 Folio is not the first of its kind. Two famous forerunners appeared in 1616, namely The Workes of Beniamin Jonson and The Workes of … Iames, by King James VI of Scotland/ I of England (see Meskill). Contrary to the one published by Heminge and Condell containing “Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies”, these are entitled “Works”, which is no minor point (see Brooks). The other large theatre-related Folio is the collected Comedies and Tragedies of Beaumont and Fletcher, which appeared in 1647, fifteen years after the reprint of Shakespeare’s Folio. As regards prominent European Folios, Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica (1543) is worth mentioning. 


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Traditionally used for history books – such as Edward Hall’s The union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Landcastre and Yorke (1548), John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Acts and Monuments, 1563) and Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles – the folio, though not entirely standardized, is the largest print format for books (except for the plano).  


As a luxury format, the folio is characterized by an elaborate and rich paratext, which includes contributions by several authors/artists and showcases the printer’s skill – title, frontispiece, table of contents, dedications, tribute poems, indexes, illustrations, and of course, author attributions. The paratext also helps turn the book into a monument: Shakespeare’s Folio is presented as such by the editors and elevated to monumental status by its introductory poems, while Foxe’s is a ‘just tomb’ raised to the spirits of Protestant martyrs, in the manner of a shrine (see Thomas Ridley’s preface).  


As such, the folio format raises the question of both its author or authors’ status and the authority of the text it contains, as is very clear in Shakespeare’s case, but also in the case of George Chapman, who (in another field) published his translations of the Iliad (1609, 1611), the Odyssey (1614) and the Complete Works of Homer (1616, 1624) in folio format. In this regard, it may be interesting to study the relationship between the folio and the quarto, the latter being the format of choice for theatrical printing in the Renaissance. Because it implied a considerable outlay (of funds, time and skilled manpower), the prestigious folio format also calls for careful consideration of the role of printers and stationers in a quickly expanding bookseller’s market. Publishing this type of book was always a high-risk financial venture: John Day nearly went bankrupt over the Book of Martyrs due to the cost of paper, while Heminge and Condell repeatedly urged readers to buy the book before judging it – indeed, some of these buyers’ names survive in various records. Even before the 1623 Folio was compiled, drawn-out financial negotiations had to take place before the playscripts owned by the playing companies could be purchased for publication. 


Finally, the very term ‘folio’ may lead us to consider that constitutive part of the book, the leaf or sheet of paper, and its theatrical uses as stage property, whether in the form of a piece of paper, page, book, or other. 


We welcome papers on the following topics: 


Shakespeare’s First Folio in the light of other folios 

The folio and the question of genre 

The history of the folio 

The evolution and meaning of the folio paratext 

The folio and the bookseller’s market 

The folio and the question of authorship 

The sociology of the folio 

The folio in 16th and 17th century libraries 

The folio and material culture (ink, paper, printing techniques, etc.) 

The folio as a theatrical object 

The circulation of folio volumes in Early Modern British, European, and Global networks 


Please send your paper proposal (paper title, keywords and a 300-word abstract) by 1 October 2022, together with a short bio-bibliographical note, to the following address


Answers will be given on 15 November 2022.  Papers will be 20 minutes long.  

Scientific Committee:

Gilles Bertheau (Tours)

Claire M. L. Bourne (Penn State)

Jean-Jacques Chardin (Strasbourg)

Louise Fang (Sorbonne Paris Nord)

Claire Guéron (Dijon)

François Laroque (Sorbonne Nouvelle)

Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (ENS Lyon)

Jean-Christophe Mayer (Montpellier 3)

Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise (Sorbonne Nouvelle)

Eric Rasmussen (Nevada)

Cathy Shrank (Sheffield)

Christine Sukic (Reims)



Peter W. M. Blayney, The First Folio of Shakespeare, Washington DC, The Folger Library Publications, 1991. 

Douglas A. Brooks, From Playhouse to Printing House: Drama and Authorship in Early Modern England, Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture 36, CUP, 2000. 

Roger Chartier, La Main de l’auteur et l’esprit de l’imprimeur : XVIe XVIIIe siècles, Paris, Gallimard. 

Charles Connell, They Gave Us Shakespeare: John Heminge and Henry Condell, London, Oriel Press, 1982. 

Francis X. Connor, Literary Folios and Ideas of the Book in Early Modern England, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 

Line Cottegnies and Jean-Christophe Mayer, eds. « New perspectives on Shakespeare’s First Folio, Cahiers élisabéthains 91,1 (2017). 

Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, « The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text, » Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993), 255-83. 

Lukas Erne, Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, CUP, 2003. 

—, Shakespeare and the Book Trade, CUP, 2013. 

Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography, New York & Oxford, OUP, 1972. 

Anthony Grafton, The Culture of Correction in Renaissance Europe, London, 2011. 

Walter Wilson Greg, The Shakespeare first folio : its bibliographical and textual history, Clarendon Press, 1955. 

David Scott Kastan, Shakespeare and the Book, CUP, 2001. 

Jeffrey Masten, Textual Intercourse: Collaboration, authorship, and sexualities in Renaissance Drama, Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture 14, Cambridge, CUP, 1997. 

Lynn Sermin Meskill, “Ben Jonson’s Folio: A Revolution in Print?”, Études Épistémè 14 (2008). 

Emma Smith, The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio, Oxford, Bodleian Library, 2015. 

—, Portable Magic: a History of Books and their Readers, Allen Lane, 2022. 

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