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Why Shakespeare in Sheets?

About the Project

Why put Shakespeare in Sheets?

….because that’s how they were first printed and assembled.

In early modern England, audiences could see Shakespeare’s plays performed on stages, but they could also buy his plays and poems in little paper books.

What did Shakespeare’s books look like?

Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598) was one of the earliest plays to be attributed to “W. Shakespere” on its title page. It would have been sold to customers without a binding from booksellers’ shops. Here is the title page:

Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 22294 copy 1. See digital images at
A Pleasant Conceited Comedie called, Loues labors lost. Newly corrected and augmented By W. Shakespere. As it was presented before her Highnes this last Christmas. Imprinted at London by W[illiam]. W[hite]. for Cutbert Burby. 1598.

Men and women in the printing houses made these books by printing the pages of Shakespeare’s plays and poems on large sheets of paper. In the binding process, these sheets were then folded, assembled, and stitched together.

Many of Shakespeare’s books were in the quarto format, which means that eight pages were printed on one sheet of paper (four on the front and four on the back). Each sheet would have been folded twice.

One side of first sheet for Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598) would have looked similar to this:

Can you find the title page on the sheet?

When folded in half twice, this sheet makes a booklet of eight pages:

LLL sheet on black background

After all the sheets had been folded, they would have been quickly stitched with thread to hold the gatherings together. Below, you will find an example of Shakespeare’s Richard II (1634) still held together by thread.

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin PFORZ 896 PFZ See digital images at

The life and death of King Richard the Second : with new additions of the Parliament scene, and the deposing of King Richard : as it hath beene acted by the Kings Majesties Servants, at the Globe. By William Shakespeare. London, Printed by John Norton, 1634.

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