A NEW exhibition is displaying three priceless pieces of the Shakespeare story together for the first time.
The centrepiece of the new exhibition, opening at Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford, is the Ashburnam First Folio, an original copy acquired by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in the 19th Century and the most valuable item in its vast collection today.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the First Folio – one of the most important books in western literature.
Without its publication in 1623, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost to time – including Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night.
Prof Charlotte Scott, Director of Knowledge and Engagement for SBT, said: “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.”
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.
For the first time, 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.
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 continued: “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 17th Century 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.
The exhibition is the first announcement of a year of activity designed to celebrate the publication of the First Folio by SBT. They will be hosting a series of special events aimed at a variety of audiences from children to Shakespeare enthusiasts and experts across the year, to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to engage with and celebrate Stratford’s greatest son and his enduring legacy.
A Great Variety of Readers – 400 Years of Shakespeare’s First Folio opens on Saturday (March 25) at Shakespeare’s New Place. Access to the exhibition is included in admission tickets.
For more information on the exhibition visit www.shakespeare.org.uk