In my first memory of seeing a Shakespeare play live, the fairies from a A Midsummer Night’s Dream enter the stage to the dulcet tones of No Doubt’s “Hella Good” and begin to dance. I don’t know what I had been expecting when I sat down in the theater, but it certainly wasn’t that. Seeing very modern music juxtaposed with a play that was nearly 400 years old made me realize just how much interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays can vary. Now thanks to the Bodleian Libraries I have a better idea of how those works and their subsequent incarnations have survived the centuries.
The Bodleian has digitized Shakespeare’s First Folio and made it publicly available online. The First Folio contains 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, and before the Bodleian received it in 1623, half these works had never been published including The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth. It is very likely that without the Folio, these plays would have been lost to time just like the creative works of many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries.
As the folks at the Bodleian say, “Shakespeare’s reputation in subsequent ages depends on this collection of his work…Without it, Shakespeare would not be Shakespeare.”
The staff and librarians at the Bodleian have done a marvelous job of digitizing the Folio. On their site, readers can view high resolution images, download files, and see the entire digital text. For a lover of Shakespeare, the Folio provides beautiful and tactile reminder of how tenuous the survival of some of these plays really was.
Now whenever I feel like revisiting A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I can read it directly from the First Folio. And whenever I do, I bet that “Hella Good” will still start running through my head.