Inventing Shakespeare: Text, Technology, and the Four Folios

Inventing Shakespeare

Inventing Shakespeare considers the technologies, devices, and tools prompted by research into the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. Called “the most thoroughly studied early modern book,” the Folio has inspired a sweeping and multidisciplinary scholarly toolkit, including Charlton Hinman’s optical-mechanical collating machine (described in a short essay on the overleaf), photographic and digital facsimiles, and ongoing experiments at CMU in the analysis of early printed books using computer vision and machine learning. Inventing Shakespeare explores the untold story of the Folio’s technological afterlives, reflecting CMU’s culture of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and technological inventiveness.

360 Virtual Tour allows remote visitors to take a self-guided tour.

Duration March 6, 2023 08:00 - June 2, 2023 23:30
Duration March 6, 2023 - June 2, 2024
Location Hunt Library
Curator Samuel Lemley
Art Director Heidi Wiren Kebe
Exhibition Guide Spring 2023 Boundless

Click to experience the 360 virtual tour of this exhibit.
Click to experience a 360 virtual tour of this exhibit.

Associate Director of Marketing Heidi Bartlett and Curator of Special Collections Samuel Lemley.
Exhibit Art Director & Designer, Heidi Wiren Bartlett and Sam Lemley, Curator of Special Collections. 

Sam Lemley and Christopher Warren
Curator of Inventing Shakespeare exhibit, Sam Lemley and Associate Professor of English Christopher Warren, who led the Print & Probability project that identified the printers of the Fourth Folio.
Inventing Shakespeare
Visitor reads a fragment from Macbeth from the Second Folio (1632).

VR Shakespeare
Stephen Wittek, Assistant Professor of English in the Shakespeare-VR experience.
Inventing Shakespeare
Installation view of the Norton Facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Inventing Shakespeare
Visitors look at leaves from the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Folios.
Inventing Shakespeare
Installation view of a fragment from Macbeth (1632).

Inventing Shakespeare
Visitors read about the Shakespeare-VR project.
Inventing Shakespeare
Inventing Shakespeare installation view.

Hinman Collator
Installation view with Hinman Collator.
Inventing Shakespeare
Video of the Hinman Collator in action.

Hinman Collator
Hinman Collator detail.
Students viewing the Hinman Collator
Students viewing the Hinman Collator.

Inventing Shakespeare title wall
Inventing Shakespeare title wall.
Leaves from the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Folios
Leaves from the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Folios.

Exhibit detail
Exhibit detail.
Visitors watch the damaged type animation
Visitors watch the damaged type animation.

Shakespeare-VR in motion
Shakespeare-VR in motion.
Student in the Shakespeare-VR experience
Student in the Shakespeare-VR experience.


This projection superimposes a distinctively damaged L and Y that appear in the word HOLY on the title page of Poole’s Annotations over a matching L and Y that appear in the word PLAYS on the title page of the Fourth Folio. Idiosyncrasies shared by these letters — a distinctive break in the L’s leg and fractures in the Y’s arms — show that they originated in the same print shop, that of Robert Roberts.

This short video animates the stereoptical effect of the Hinman Collator. It shows a passage in Act Four of Othello in two different printings. In the later printing, “set sining” is revised to “sat singing” in the first line. In fact, both readings are wrong: the line should read, “The poore Soule sat sighing, by a Sicamour tree,” as is clear from the context of Desdemona's lament. Detecting variants like this one allows scholars to judge which printing of a particular line is most accurate or most likely represents what Shakespeare wrote.

The video also shows two variant states of the engraved portrait of Shakespeare that appears on or facing the title page of all four Shakespeare Folios. The engraved copperplate from which the portrait was printed was modified to lend Shakespeare’s face more depth and realism. In the later state, Shakespeare’s eyebrows and beard are darker and more pronounced.