William Shakespeare's First Folio is Bodleian Library's digital gift on his birthday

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 April 2013

It contains the ominous "double, double, toil and trouble" of Macbeth, the ear-lending Friends, Romans and countrymen of Julius Caesar and a set of 34 other plays, many of which – The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors, to name two – had never been published before.

An image of a painting of a 17th century male poet
© Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Now the tome-like First Folio of William Shakespeare’s works, dating from the early 17th century, has gone online for the first time following a £20,000 project by owners the Bodleian Library to digitise the 1,000-page volume.

First lent by the library in 1623, it shows extensive wear and tear to the pages of Romeo and Juliet, although King Lear is in almost pristine condition.

The collection could have been lost forever had it not been published posthumously by actors John Heminge and Henry Condell.

It left the library during the 1660s, but returned after an impassioned public fundraising bid succeeded more than a century ago, and is now online thanks to a campaign which began last August with the backing of high-profile figures including Vanessa Redgrave and Stephen Fry.

“‘We are grateful for the numerous gifts which were sent from around the world in support of our efforts to digitize the Bodleian copy of the First Folio,” said Dr Sarah Thomas, the Librarian at the Oxford institution.

“These are a testimony that Shakespeare’s plays transcend cultures and are loved by everyone.

“We hope that by publishing this special volume online, we will be able to take continue Bodleian’s mission of making its treasures accessible to scholars and general public alike.”

The Folio is freely accessible, accompanied by articles and blogs from experts, performers and the public.

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