A rare glimpse of Shakespeare’s First Folio
Published: 14 April 2023
23 April is Shakespeare’s birthday and this year you can celebrate by seeing Shakespeare’s First Folio for yourself at UofG's Hunterian Art Gallery.
2023 marks the 400th birthday of The First Folio, the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays. 23 April is considered to be Shakespeare’s birthday and this year you can celebrate by seeing Shakespeare’s First Folio for yourself at UofG's Hunterian Art Gallery.
The University of Glasgow's very special copy of the book will make a rare public appearance for one weekend only on 22 and 23 April.
Only 18 of Shakespeare's plays appeared in print during his lifetime, and some of these were corrupt or pirated editions. The First Folio contains 36 plays and 18 were published here for the first time, saving works such as The Tempest and Macbeth from probable extinction.
About 750 copies of the 1623 First Folio were printed. 235 are known to have survived with 50 copies till in the UK, 149 in USA and 36 in other corners of the world (nine of which are listed as ‘missing’).
As part of the Folio400 celebration, owners worldwide are being encouraged to display their copies on or around 23 April. Throughout 2023 there will be three First Folios on display across Scotland. They will be on view to the public at the University of Glasgow, the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh and Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute. These three different volumes, in three very different collections, have three different stories to tell.
The University of Glasgow’s First Folio, held in the Library’s Archives & Special Collections, recently underwent conservation work. It is a complex ‘made up’ volume, formed from combining two or three different imperfect copies to create a whole. In common with most other surviving First Folios, the book shows considerable signs of wear and use, and many of its pages are stained and dirt-engrained. This evidence of heavy use by previous owners can offer us historical insights into reading habits, and this copy is particularly important for its early annotations that were made by a reader who had evidently seen Shakespeare’s plays being acted contemporaneously.
The University of Glasgow First Folio will be on display at the Hunterian Art Gallery from 10am until 5pm on 22 and 23 April. Julie Gardham, Senior Librarian in Archives and & Special Collections, will also give a public talk on ‘Folio Day’, 23 April at 1pm, discussing this icon of literature and the peculiar significance of the University of Glasgow’s copy. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to decide for yourself if the First Folio is ‘very good’ or ‘starke naught’!
There are also two online lunchtime talks delving into the fascinating stories of the First Folio. ‘First Folio at the University of Glasgow’ on Friday 21 April at 1pm with Senior Librarian Julie Gardham and Professor of English Literature Adrian Streete and ‘Shakespeare's First Folios Across Scotland’ on Friday 28 April at 1pm, with The Mount Stuart Trust’s Librarian, Elizabeth Ingham and The National Library of Scotland’s Head of Rare Books, Maps and Music, Helen Vincent.
Professor Adrian Streete, Head of English Literature at the University of Glasgow, said: “The story of how Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies became the ‘First Folio’ is a long and complicated one, bound up with shifting ideas of literary prestige, the theatre, and national identity. But the First Folio remains a monument to the enduring power of literature to help us make sense of ourselves and others, and to imagine new and better worlds.”
Folio400 aims to arrange, encourage and promote an array of shows to celebrate the 400th Birthday of The First Folio, the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays, in 2023. Folio Day, 23 April 2023 – Shakespeare’s birthday – will launch the Folio Season. A number of both institutional and Private First Folio owners will make their copies available to be viewed by the public across the UK and Ireland including the three Scottish institutions.
About The University of Glasgow First Folio
It is believed this is a 'made up' copy, using leaves from several different First Folio copies. The book probably belonged to the Cary family in the seventeenth century and was later owned by the fifth Earl of Inchiquin of Taplow Court, Buckinghamshire, who apparently acquired the book c.1780. After this, we know that the book changed hands a couple of times before it was bought by a William Euing who bequeathed it to the University of Glasgow along with the rest of his library when he died in 1874.
One owner, J O Halliwell-Phillipps, the bibliophile and prolific writer on Shakespeare, described this as his 'second best' Folio, stating it was 'neither ragged nor rotten'. In fact, in common with most other surviving First Folios, the book shows considerable signs of wear and use, and many of its pages are stained and dirt-engrained. This evidence of heavy use by previous owners can offer us historical insights into reading habits, and this copy is particularly interesting for its early annotations. Possibly written by a member of the Cary family, they suggest that the annotator actually saw the plays being performed and knew or at least had seen some of the actors. The reader occasionally adds comments to the text as well, showing us his appreciation (or otherwise) of the plays.
Mount Stuart will display the Bute Folio for two weeks in the Marble Hall at Mount Stuart from 17–30 April and offer private viewings of the Bute Folio for the rest of Mount Stuart’s open season (until October 2023).
National Library of Scotland
The Library is planning a workshop and also an online event where people can gain close-up detail of the First Folio during Shakespeare’s birthday month (April). The Library’s copy of the First Folio will go on display in its ‘Treasures’ exhibition at George IV Bridge, Edinburgh from September 2023. Entry is free.
In Person Curator Talk
Very good or stark naught? Shakespeare’s First Folio at the University of Glasgow
Sunday 23 April 2023 from1pm–2pm
Hunterian Art Gallery, free
Join Julie Gardham, Librarian in Archives & Special Collections at the University of Glasgow to find out more about this important book and its significance.
Book tickets HERE.
The First Folio at the University of Glasgow
Friday 21 April 2023 at 1pm
2023 marks the 400th birthday of The First Folio, the first printed edition of William Shakespeare’s collected plays. The First Folio collection contains 36 plays, 18 of which were here published for the first time, thus saving such works as The Tempest and Macbeth from probable extinction. Join University of Glasgow colleagues Julie Gardham, Librarian in Archives & Special Collections and Adrian Streete, Professor of Early Modern English Literature and Religion to find out more about this important book and its significance.
Book tickets HERE.
Shakespeare's First Folios Across Scotland
Friday 28 April 2023 at 1pm
To celebrate the 400th birthday of Shakespeare's First Folio, three copies in Scottish collections will go on public display including that of the University of Glasgow, the National Library of Scotland and Mount Stuart Trust. Join The Mount Stuart Trust’s Librarian, Elizabeth Ingham and The National Library of Scotland’s Head of Rare Books, Maps and Music, Helen Vincent and find out more about their First Folios.
Book tickets HERE.
First published: 14 April 2023