Countdown's Susie Dent helps launch new Shakespeare exhibition in Stratford
DELVE into the Oxford English Dictionary and it’s not difficult to find Shakespeare’s influence.
In fact, Susie Dent the lexicographer and controller of Dictionary Corner on the Channel 4 game show Countdown, said there are thousands of references to the Bard’s words and works.
And many of those we only have because of the First Folio, the 1623 publication which is the subject of a new Shakespeare Birthplace Trust exhibition, A Great Variety of Readers – 400 Years of Shakespeare’s First Folio.
The book also saved for the world 18 of Shakespeare’s plays that would have otherwise been lost to time, including Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night.
Four centuries later, those works and the words used within them influence our language.
“The bedrock of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) really is the man we’re celebrating here today, Shakespeare,” Susie told a crowd gathered for the launch of the exhibition at New Place last week. “He is the most quoted author there is in the OED, there are thousands upon thousands of quotations from his works and over 1,300 first records, which means at the moment he is credited with inventing these [words]. Quite often we find earlier evidence of his words, but there is no doubt it is thanks to him that these words are with us still.”
Many of the words are found in the centrepiece of the exhibit which is, of course, the Folio – Master William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies as it is known. It is one of the most important books in western literature.
There are a little more than 200 in the world and SBT has three of them. The book on display is the Ashburnam First Folio, an original copy acquired by the trust in the 19th century. It is the most valuable item in its collection.
It would have been a valuable item at the time of publication (seven years after Shakespeare’s death) as printing was expensive.
Prof Charlotte Scott, director of knowledge and engagement for SBT, said: “Producing the book was a labour of love and we have his friends and fellow actors to thank for publishing it seven years after Shakespeare died.
“It was one of the most important and enduring artistic legacies of all time and this is something we are excited to explore in our exhibition.”
The Folio, while the centre piece of the exhibit, is not the only book on display – the tiny notebook that sits next to it is also intriguing.
Dating from the 17th century, the notebook was filled by one of Shakespeare’s earliest and most devoted fans. It is owned by John Markham (some may recall its appearance on the Antiques Roadshow a few years back) and is being publicly exhibited for the first time.
The 48 tiny pages are filled with about 12,500 words featuring quotations and notes on the plays contained within the Folio.
The final major piece of the exhibition is a gold ring that bears the initials ‘WS’. This was found in a field close to Holy Trinity Church and dates from Shakespeare’s time. It has long been thought to have been worn by the man himself.
The exhibition, which was described as modest but heartfelt, is the trust’s first event this year designed to celebrate the anniversary of the First Folio. It will also be hosting a series of special events aimed at a variety of audiences, from children to enthusiasts and experts.
Trust CEO Tim Cooke added: “It’s wonderful that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is able to make this link between the life of the man and the work itself, which we continue to find as living inspiration today.”
The exhibition is at New Place until 5th November. For ticket prices, visit www.shakespeare.org.uk.