books · libraries · resources

Shakespeare Online: Saving the First Folio

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William Shakespeare, First Folio, 1623, via Wikimedia

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 TempestTwo Gentlemen of VeronaThe Taming of the ShrewTwelfth NightJulius 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.

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Oleg Evstafyev, “Lear. Puppets and People,” Malenki Theater, directed by Michael Teplitsky, 2015, via Wikimedia.
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7 thoughts on “Shakespeare Online: Saving the First Folio

  1. I was lucky enough to see the amazing Peter Brook production of Midsummer Night’s Dream waaay back in 1970. I was a schoolgirl and fell in love with the anarchy and excitement, while roaring with laughter… a magical night at the theatre I have never forgotten:).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds lovely! I just spent an absurd amount of time googling clips from that production, and it looks amazing. Titania had great carriage.

      I think Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the best plays to use when introducing kids and teens to Shakespeare because it is filled with so much energy and joy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh it is! With just the right amount of darkness so that it also intrigues. It and The Tempest are my favourite Shakespeare plays – I love them for the language and madcap magical nonsense:)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It makes so much sense in the original format. I’d given up on ‘Shakspere’ (as his name was written in olden times), now can feel his rhythm in these pages.
    The permanence of the written word is one of the reasons I took up writing seriously, as opposed to being a singer/songwriter. Music is in the air, impermanent. A book can last forever. My songs are lost to time because I never recorded them. Some of them reappear as poems, but lyrics make little sense without melody, timbre and beat. It’s all about the beat. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. HA! I have yet to hear No Doubt as a Shakespearian score, though the one version I saw of Midsummernight’s dream had someone wearing kitchen utensils as armor. How wonderful to see great stories like these preserved! (And…interesting?…to see them adapted 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

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