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Shakespeare’s First Folio is centrepiece of new exhibition

A NEW exhibition and a year of celebration to mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s work will start next month.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the national museum for exploring his work, life and legacies this week announced the exhibition and a year of celebration and from the end of March, visitors to Stratford will have a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the creation of one of the most important books in western literature: Master William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, published in 1623, known as the First Folio.

Shakespeare's First Folio. Photo: SBT (62304024)
Shakespeare's First Folio. Photo: SBT (62304024)

Without this book, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost to time, including Macbeth, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and Antony and Cleopatra.

The story of the First Folio begins at New Place, the location of the new exhibition and Shakespeare’s family home from 1597 until his death in 1616. It is the presumed location of where he wrote his will, and indeed some of the plays, the significance of which will be explored in the exhibition.

“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 upcoming exhibition,” said Professor Charlotte Scott, director of knowledge and engagement for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Audiences will have the opportunity to view three key items that organisers say will help visitors dig deeper into the story of the Folio and its enduring legacy.

The centrepiece of the exhibition will be an original copy of the First Folio, known as the Ashburnam Folio. It is part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Designated Collection and was acquired by the Trust in the 19th century.

Alongside the First Folio will be a seal ring. Found in a field close to Holy Trinity Church in Stratford and dating from Shakespeare’s time it bears the initials ‘W.S’ and has long been thought to have been worn by the man himself.

Charlotte said: “We know that Shakespeare bequeathed money in his will to the men who would go on to publish ‘Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies’, John Heminges and Henry Condell, to buy mourning rings. This could be seen as a personal promise that they would publish his plays in one great volume.”

In addition to the two key items from Shakespeare’s time will be a notebook of one of his earliest and most devoted fans, which is being publicly exhibited for the first time. Filled with quotations and notes on the plays contained within the Folio it is thought this is the first example of an individual studying Shakespeare’s work in detail and highlighting the Trust’s guiding principles that Shakespeare is for everyone.

A Great Variety of Readers – 400 Years of Shakespeare’s First Folio opens on Saturday 25th March at Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford. Access to the exhibition is included in admission tickets to Shakespeare’s New Place, starting from £13 for adults and £6.50 for children. Admission is also included in the Shakespeare’s Story ticket, which grants access to all the other Shakespeare family homes, including Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

For more information on the exhibition and the wider Shakespeare’s First Folio at 400 celebrations visit www.shakespeare.org.uk.

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