'Much to do' about Shakespeare at the Bodleian Libraries this summer

1 August 2015

From the Globe Theatre on Tour's production of Much Ado about Nothing to a new Shakespeare display and the ongoing Marks of Genius exhibition, the Bodleian Libraries offers a wealth of opportunities for Shakespeare fans this summer.

There's still time to catch a performance of Much Ado about Nothing, which continues in the Bodleian's stunning Old Schools Quadrangle until 2 August. Meanwhile, a new display, Johnson and Shakespeare, has opened in the Proscholium, the entrance to the Old Bodleian Library, located in the Old Schools Quadrangle.

Image of Proposals for Printing, by Subscription, The Dramatick Works of William Shakespeare, Corrected and Illustrated by Samuel JohnsonThe display marks the 250th anniversary of the publication of Samuel Johnson's critical edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare. Johnson was a pre-eminent man of letters in the 18th century, who published his famous Dictionary of the English Language before turning his hand to editing Shakespeare's works. He published his eight-volume edition of Shakespeare in 1765 which included every Shakespeare play alongside the notes and commentary of earlier editors as well as Johnson's own explanations and interpretations. Johnson's approach to editing established new standards for the historical interpretation of Shakespeare's texts.

'The display looks at two inaugural moments in the history of Shakespeare: Johnson's effort to create a more accurate version of the text than had ever been published before, and his friend David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee, which established Shakespeare as a cultural celebrity,' said Lynda Mugglestone, Professor of the History of English at the University of Oxford. She curated the display with Jim McLaverty, Emeritus Professor at Keele University.

The free display runs until 6 September. Items on display include 18th century books, documents and receipts telling the story of Johnson's critical edition as well as lively song sheets, music and scripts from the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, an event that marked the beginning of Stratford as a place of Shakespearian pilgrimage and celebration.

Across the road from the Old Bodleian, visitors can see the very first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, the First Folio, which was published more than a century before Johnson's critical edition. The First Folio is one of many treasures on display in Marks of Genius, the first exhibition held in the Bodleian's newly refurbished Weston Library.

This free exhibition runs until 20 September and includes a special section devoted to Shakespeare. It features the First Folio, a copy of Shakespeare's most popular poem, Venus and Adonis, an early edition of Hamlet and works by Shakespeare's contemporaries. These books sit alongside a beautifully illustrated map of London, published in the year of Shakespeare’s death, which shows the Globe Theatre.

Members of the public can also explore a digital facsimile of the First Folio online, launched two years ago thanks to hundreds of donors who supported the Libraries' Sprint for Shakespeare fundraising campaign. The Sprint for Shakespeare website is a free online resource where visitors can leaf through the original printed pages of the digital First Folio, download text and images and learn more about the eventful history of the Bodleian's copy of the First Folio.

Next year, the Bodleian will also be hosting festivities as part of Oxford's celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

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