The Tempest first appeared in print in 1623 in the collection of thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays titled Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies; Published according to the True and Original Copies, which is known as the First Folio. The plays, including The Tempest, were gathered and edited by John Heminges and Henry Condell.
A handwritten manuscript of The Tempest was prepared by Ralph Crane, a scrivener employed by the King's Men. A scrivener is one who has a talent and is practiced at using a quill pen and ink to create legible manuscripts. Crane probably copied from Shakespeare’s rough draft, and based his style on Ben Jonson’s Folio of 1616. Crane is thought to have neaten texts, edited the divisions of acts and scenes, and sometimes added his own improvements. He was fond of joining words with hyphens, and using elisions with apostrophes, for example by changing "with the king" to read: "w’th’ King". The elaborate stage directions in The Tempest may have been due to Crane; they provide evidence regarding how the play was staged by the King’s Company.
The entire First Folio project was delivered to the blind printer, William Jaggard, and printing began in 1622. The Tempest is the first play in the book. It was proofread and printed with special care; it is the most well-printed and the cleanest text of the thirty-six plays. To do the work of setting the type in the printing press three compositors were used for The Tempest. In the 1960s, a landmark bibliographic study of the First Folio was accomplished by Charlton Hinman. Based on distinctive quirks in the printed words on the page, the study was able to individuate the compositors, and reveal that three compositors worked on The Tempest, they are known as Compositor B, C and F. Compositor B worked on The Tempest’s first page as well as six other pages. He was an experienced journeyman in Jaggard’s printshop, who occasionally could be careless. He also was fond of dashes and colons, where modern editions use commas. In his role, he may have had a responsibility for the entire First Folio. The other two, Compositors C and F, worked full-time and were experienced printers.
Spelling and punctuation was not standardized, and will vary from page to page, because each compositor had their individual preferences and styles. There is evidence that the press run was stopped at least four times, which allowed proofreading and corrections. However, a page with an error would not be discarded, so pages late in any given press run would be the most accurate, and each of the final printed folios may vary in this regard. This is the common practice at the time. There is also an instance of a letter (a metal sort or a type) being damaged (possibly) during the course of a run and changing the meaning of a word: After the masque Ferdinand says,
- Let me live here ever!
- So rare a wondered father and a wise
- Makes this place paradise! (4.1.122-4)
The word "wise" at the end of line 123 was printed with the traditional long "s" that resembles an "f". But in 1978 it was suggested that during the press run, a small piece of the crossbar on the type had broken off, and the word should be "wife". Modern editors have not come to an agreement—Oxford says "wife", Arden says "wise".