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First Folio



Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) was and still has a great influence in shaping world views. From helping to standardise the English language to teaching us important life lessons, Shakespeare is still considered to be the greatest writer of all time. His plays have had the most profound impact on social culture, with most schools studying his work as part of their curriculum.


For this project in the third year of my bachelor’s degree, we were able to choose from a variety of briefs from either the ISTD (International Society of Typographic Designers) competition or the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) Design Directions Award Programme. I chose an ISTD brief called ‘Shaping the World’, inspired by the beauty and power of words and books. The brief was to choose one of the publications listed in the 2018 Pavilion Books published title – 100 Books That Changed The World, by Scott Christianson and Colin Salter. After investigating the significance and influence of my chosen book, the brief required me to problem-solve how it should be presented to new and future audiences.


To celebrate such a talented playwright, I explored his First Folio and have presented it anew as: a set of the 36 individual plays from the Folio in the form of interactive, printed scripts/books. They aim to encourage the user to engage and respond to the content of each play with the space provided to make notes/draw in them (as many did to the First Folios in previous centuries). Also, both the original text and a BSL translation of that play are to be bound together in the same copy – a double-ended book. Shakespeare’s plays are about theatre, not narrative and he intended them for listening to, not reading. As a tool used for theatre, these scripts hope to inspire integrated performances to produce more inclusive productions.




A play is about voice – whether that be through speech, sign language or other forms of communication. Shakespeare’s First Folio contains 36 of his plays, 18 of which would likely have been lost without the folio. However, as impressive as the Folio is having successfully sustained Shakespeare’s legacy, it isn’t particularly user-friendly. It’s large, heavy, and now worth millions. To present it to new and future audiences, I decided to start by researching why we still study Shakespeare centuries later, to uncover the importance of the plays and the playwright.




Investigating the importance and use of Shakespeare’s First Folio and the plays it contains, the origin is scripts and theatre. Whilst exploring the possibilities for my outcome, I kept in mind how people interact with Shakespeare’s works in their various forms: reading (print or digitally), listening and watching (live or online), studying, everyday speech (e.g., ‘break the ice’), etc.




After much research, I narrowed down the focus of my investigation to a few keywords/phrases that stuck out and resonated with this project:


•         Heard a play > Saw a play

•         Listening > Reading

•         Voice

•         Human Diversity

•         Theatre not narrative

•         Apprehension > Comprehension

•         Response

•         Performance


As a result of these words, I determined the basic form my outcome would take and began sketching, experimenting, and testing the practicality of my ideas with the user in mind. Certain challenges like the thickness of the play arose, but I combatted them with lower gsm paper stock and removing excess materials.




I think that individual plays in the format I designed would appeal to my target audience: actors/aspiring actors (deaf or hearing), students and Shakespeare enthusiasts. The convenient, tactile nature of the plays would allow them to actively engage with the content and further explore his works.




By celebrating human diversity in his plays, Shakespeare continues to be one of the most notable writers of all time. I think my outcome adds a unique flavour to the standard copies of his plays.

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