False Folio is the term that Shakespeare scholars and bibliographers have applied to William Jaggard's printing of ten Shakespearean and pseudo-Shakespearean plays together in 1619, the first attempt to collect Shakespeare's work in a single volume. There are only two complete extant copies. One is part of the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. The other is held in the Special Collections at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
The term "false folio" intentionally evokes the folio collections of Shakespeare's works that appeared later: the First Folio of 1623 and its three seventeenth-century successors. The description "folio" is not strictly accurate, since the ten plays were printed in a larger-than-usual quarto format, not in folio; but the key qualifier is false folio. The texts in question were first examined with modern bibliographic procedures primarily by Alfred W. Pollard, W. W. Greg, and William J. Neidig. Pollard provides a detailed account in his Shakespeare Folios and Quartos.
In summary, the stationer and printer William Jaggard reprinted ten plays in 1619, either to be bound together in a single volume or issued separately depending on customer choice. Jaggard, however, did not have clear title to all of the plays involved [see: Stationers Company; Stationers' Register], and therefore he printed some of the texts with false dates and the names of the original stationers involved on the title pages - in effect reproducing the appearance of the earlier quartos. The ten plays were:
Pericles was printed after The Whole Contention, since their signatures (the alphanumeric designations of the quires in sequence) run together; but the nine plays were apparently bound together in no particular order. (The few existing collections vary.)
As Jaggard lacked rights to Hayes' Merchant of Venice, he may also have lacked rights to Butter's Lear and Johnson's Merry Wives. There is much about the False Folio affair that remains unclear, such as subjective questions of Jaggard's motivation. Jaggard had a previous odd connection with the Shakespeare canon: he had printed the questionable miscellany The Passionate Pilgrim as Shakespeare's in 1599 and 1612. Some Shakespeare scholars have wondered why the King's Men used Jaggard as the printer and one of the publishers of the First Folio, just a couple of years after the False Folio affair. (Work on the First Folio began almost certainly in 1621.) It may have been a case of necessity, since Jaggard had a large-capacity print shop. (He had demonstrated his ability to print a volume of ten plays.) Pavier's role in the matter is also debated; his initials occur on five of the nine volumes (six of the ten plays), and some contemporary commentators see Pavier's role as more significant than Jaggard's - referring to the books as the "Pavier quartos" instead of the "False Folio."
Pollard focused much of his attention on the concept of literary "piracy," and his viewpoint coloured much of the scholarly attitude and approach to the False Folio during the twentieth century. By the start of the twenty-first century, some researchers began to take a less melodramatic and more nuanced view of the questions involved, a view that no longer casts Jaggard and Pavier as the villains in a moral contest.