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Shakespeare’s First Folio to Be Digitised in Bodleian Library Campaign

By Periscope @periscopepost
Shakespeare's FIrst Folio Shakespeare’s First Folio. Photocredit: Tripadvisor

The background

It’s high time for Shakespeare fans: Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries is going to put the First Folio of the Bard’s plays online. Such luminous stars of stage and screen as Stephen Fry and Vanessa Regrave have given their backing to the campaign, which will digitise the 1623 collection at a cost of about £20 per page. When it’s done, anyone will be able to see the website and the plays free of charge, along with articles from academics and other professionals. The campaign, called Sprint for Shakespeare, needs to raise about £20,000.

The First Folio is the first authoritative collection of Shakespeare’s plays. The Bodleian’s copy hasn’t been rebound for four centuries, and in fact vanished when the library got hold of a much smarter Third Folio, only to reappear in 1905. The Telegraph reported, somewhat wryly, that the book revealed “the literary tastes of early readers – while the pages of Romeo and Juliet have been nearly worn to shreds, King John has been left virtually intact.” Though the texts of Shakespeare’s plays are freely available on the internet, this is the first time that the First Folio will be placed online. Its importance to scholars, as well as to the general public, is being lauded.

Sprint for Shakespeare is a noble project

Stephen Fry waxed lyrical. He said, quoted on The Telegraph, that the First Folio “turned the world upside down (or should that be the right way up?) every bit as much as Newton was to do.” Shakespeare, gushed the actor, tells “us what it is to be alive.” The bard expresses our “ambiguity, doubt, puzzlement, pain, madness and hilarity” better than anyone else. This is a “noble and magnificent” project. Sir Peter Hall, the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, added his voice to the chorus: it will give “an unrivalled opportunity for textual study.”

A sorry looking volume, but a very important one

This “sorry-looking volume”, reported Maev Kennedy in The Guardian, is “one of the most famous books in the world.” It’s important because it was published within seven years after the playwright’s death – crucially, “by his friends and fellow actors,” and is why we still have the plays today. Intriguingly, the book was initially banned from the Bodleian since it was thought to be a “riff raff and baggage” book. It has an interesting story, too – the library got rid of it after they’d acquired a Third Folio in 1664, and it vanished until a man walked in in 1905 with it, and asked what the library thought of it. Kennedy continued: the book will have to be conserved very carefully, and will have to be stabilised so that during the process of digitisation it doesn’t disintegrate.

Keeping the flame for future generations

This folio, said Fiona Wilson in The Times, gave us the divisions into comedies, tragedies and histories. It gave us Shakespeare’s face, in the form of that “much-reprinted engraving.” Its importance is paramount – and now, if the money is raised, we could see this “unbroken link with Shakespeare” made permanent for “future generations.”

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