Background & History
Friendly Folio - Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to the questions we have been asked most often during the last thirty years of Shakespeare workshops and explorations.
What is the First Folio?
The First Folio is a collection of thirty-six of Shakespeare's plays in one volume, the first time his plays were gathered together for one book. The project was introduced and, we believe, overseen by two of his fellow actors who had worked and performed alongside William Shakespeare, and published the Folio in 1623, seven years after his death. We consider this to be the closest to what the actors performed all those years ago.
Why is it important?
Eighteen of Shakespeare's plays would have been lost forever if they had not appeared in the First Folio. Just as original scores of period music and the use of original instruments to play them are interesting and revealing to musicians, so the original words, and the way they are presented are interesting to actors and lovers of Shakespeare, especially since two actors seem to have been involved in producing them.
What were the original performance conditions?
There was a company of male actors who always presented six different plays in one week. They would also introduce new plays into the repertoire every two weeks or so, and would sometimes not repeat a play for months. They worked, not from a complete script, but from a Part and there would be no time in a busy schedule for rehearsals in the modern sense of the word. Understandably, there was a prompter who was regularly used.
What is a Part or Cue Script?
They are also called Sides, or Lengths. They were written out by hand, and contained all a character's lines and the few words before each of their speeches. In all the professional Parts that exist from that period there is no indication as to who says these cue words, or even who else is on stage at the time. When only a section of the Part is used, we call it a Cue Script.
What is a Platt?
As the actors did not have the whole play, they would need to know the sequence of events, what costumes to wear, and what properties to use. The Platt is a synopsis of the scenes in running order, indicating all the characters (and sometimes who played them), personal props, entrances and exits. It was hung up backstage for all to see. More information
What about the rehearsal in A Midsummer Night's Dream?
This scene is often cited as evidence of how rehearsals were conducted in Elizabethan times, but it does not show professional actors; it shows a weaver, a joiner, a tinker, a tailor and a bellows-mender being told what to do by a carpenter. Looking at the evidence from the time, from Henslowe's Diary, court performance records, letters and other historical data, we can make an educated guess about how much time was available for acting companies to prepare for a performance. Doing a different play every afternoon meant that the preparation time (including memorization) would be limited to mornings, and we believe this left no time for a complete run through of a play before its first performance. A 'rehearsal' like the one the Mechanicals enjoyed in the woods was not something the actors at the Globe would have had time for. This is the hardest thing for people to accept - that it was (and is) possible to put on a play by Shakespeare without at least one complete run through - and that was one of the main reasons the Original Shakespeare Company was formed, and what it triumphantly proved at every performance and workshop.
What does Friendly Folio do?
The typeface, speech headings, stage instructions and spelling in the First Folio can be off-putting to modern readers, so Friendly Folio is printed in modern typeface, and the interchangeable "u" and "v", "i" and "j", and the long-tailed "s" have been regularised. The speech headings have been standardised, and the texts also made available in their original cue script form.
Isn't this stuff available elsewhere on the net for nothing?
The raw text can indeed be downloaded, but it can be confusing to read, and the original speech headings, being inconsistent, can make it difficult to see who is saying what. The Friendly Folio text is much easier to read and appreciate, and its other value is the provision of parts where the scholar or actor can study the text the way the original actor did, with all the cues written in the way they would have been for him. This is not available from any other source.
I have been taught that the Folio is full of mistakes.
The Folio is, of course, not perfect and does have some mistakes, particularly in some mis-assigned speech headings, and in minor printing errors. However, textual mistakes to a scholarly eye are often not a mistake to a theatrical one. The modern editors make many changes to the punctuation, which may in themselves be more grammatically correct, but the Folio punctuation is, we feel, an actor's punctuation.
Why don't more people use the Folio for study or performance?
They do, but it is a slow process to convince people of the value of the Folio. When we started at the beginning of the 1980s, Folios were hard to come by, and the idea of working from that text attracted much scorn. Now Folios are available in many versions and varieties and more theatre companies are starting to be influenced by its text, and some brave souls work only from the Folio, as the OSC always did. This website is a natural extension of the growing interest in the value of the original text.