Introducing our First Folio-inspired design for Summer 2023

Shakespeare’s Globe unveils new season typeface inspired by 400-year-old prints

5 minute read

To mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio — the most renowned collection of the playwright’s works — the design team at Shakespeare’s Globe drew inspiration from the delicate original woodcut illustrations featured in the Folio for the designs for Summer 2023 season shows including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Comedy of Errors, Macbeth, As You Like It and Midsummer Mechanicals. Without the First Folio, printed 7 years after Shakespeare’s death, these and 14 others of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost.

Originally printed in the 17th century as ornamental devices to break up the text, these intricate illustrations reflect elements and themes of the natural world. They have been digitally revitalized by south London based type design studio Typeland under the art direction of the Globe’s in-house design team: art director Irene Omodeo Zorini and freelance Art Director Louise Richardson. The result is a series of ornamented letterforms, which will be incorporated into all the artwork for the Summer 2023 season.

An illustration of William Shakespeare against a red background.

‘Without the First Folio printed 7 years after Shakespeare’s death, these and 14 others of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost.’

What we would have lost

This year the natural world was a recurring theme in conversations between Artistic Director Michelle Terry and the directors of each play, and so nature took centre stage when the designers began their visual exploration. The woodcut illustrations serve as a perfect reminder of the fragility and beauty of the natural world not only visually, but also in their scarcity, as they only exist in fewer than 200 remaining copies of the Folio. In this sense, the ornamented letterforms act as symbols of the connection between art, nature and our cultural heritage, and the importance of preserving it all.

Visualising nature

An actor covered in dir with ivy and flowers of the forest woven in their hair. The words 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' written above the acotr

Elle While opens our Summer 2023 season with A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 27 April.

The five main posters for the Summer 2023 season take inspiration from visual representations of nature, from untamedwildness to more controlled, man made environments. Through the imaginative exploration of nature and its absence, they challenge the notion of what we might have lost by emphasising what we possess.

Each poster captures a unique conversation with the directors, exploring their personal relationship with the play, their perspectives on human nature and a consideration of the natural world as key themes for this season.

The past two seasons have embraced an explosive and vibrant full colour palette, reflected in the posters for this summer. This season celebrates the spirit of the Globe by enabling its directors to fully convey their take on Shakespeare, making each play unique.

The Folio letters brief

With this theme in mind, the Globe’s design team collaborated with Alessia Mazzarella and Vaibhav Singh of Typeland to develop typographic treatments in greater detail. The Globe had used Typeland’s Amifer font family for the previous seasons, and the team thought that a new direction with Amifer’s heavy weight would be particularly interesting to experiment with, juxtaposing continuity with unexpected novelty. The explorations led to the idea of incorporating illustrated elements within the typography, as opposed to having them superimposed as separate elements. Taking inspiration from the Folio’s decorative initials, the brief was thus developed to design the entire uppercase alphabet, with a focus on hero letters from six summer season plays. Details included a shooting arrow through the ‘M’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a regal bird on the ‘M’ in Macbeth. The alphabet features alternate designs for ‘M’, ‘S’ and ‘T’, along with original patterns in their entirety.

An actor in Elizabethan dress climbs out of a hole in the wall, whilst a pair of legs in the same dress falls into a hole in the floor

Our Associate Artistic Director Sean Holmes brings Shakespeare’s extraordinary madcap comedy The Comedy of Errors to the Globe stage from 12 May.

Creating the letters

Picking elements from the decorative imagery and patterns that appear in the First Folio, Typeland designed a bespoke layer font for Shakespeare’s Globe: Amifer Folio. Taking the design team’s ideas as a starting point, Typeland worked through the Folio’s pages, interpreting and drawing a set of elements that could form the basis for the overall illustrative thematic treatment.

The challenge was to create combinations and variations that were intricate in their design, but that could also work across dif ferent scales. This meant creating a design that would be effective at varying sizes and levels of detail, depending on how big or small the decorative initials were in a given scenario.

To achieve this, Typeland created two separate styles in the type family: Amifer Folio Small serves as the base layer of elements with simpler details, while Amifer Folio Big features a greater number of elements and fills, providing a more impactful presence at larger sizes. Creating these distinct layers achieves a level of versatility in the typeface that enables it to be used in a range of different contexts without appearing too light or too dark in the decorative layer.

Each style makes use not only of the peculiar cast of characters (angelic and demonic entities, symbols, masks, gargoyles, flora and fauna) that appear in the First Folio’s woodcuts, but it also uses the pattern elements that mark the beginning and end of various sections in the Folio. These patterns have been carefully interpreted to be used on their own, and spaced in a manner that ensures that they can be seamlessly repeated.

The letters of the alphabet capitalized, each filled with cursive drawings of grape vines and animals

‘Each style makes use not only of the peculiar cast of characters (angelic and demonic entities, symbols, masks, gargoyles, flora and fauna) that appear in the First Folio’s woodcuts…’

A full circle for This Wooden O

After digitizing the Folio illustrations, the team aimed to honour the 17th century roots of the designs by creating 50 limited edition prints using a 17th century printing press. They created a metal plate featuring the ‘This Wooden O’ design with the Amifer Folio typeface and printed the 50 prints on site at the Globe Theatre. The result was a beautifully unique piece celebrating Shakespeare, the Globe Theatre, and the artists, and the techniques that preserved his work centuries ago.

Celebrating the Folio for years to come

Although the project began as a celebration of the First Folio’s 400th anniversary, the Amifer Folio letterforms will continue their journey beyond the Summer 2023 season and anniversary year. They celebrate the preservation of Shakespeare’s work and the writers, artists, and friends who ensured its survival.


Our Summer 2023 season opens 27 April 2023 and runs until 29 October 2023. Discover more about the season.

Summer 2023 photography by Johan Persson. Typeface by Typeland.