Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Fry and Sir Peter Hall to support Bodleian's public appeal to digitize the first volume of Shakespeare's plays

2 August 2012

First FolioGreat names from the world of arts, culture and academia including actress VANESSA REDGRAVE, actor STEPHEN FRY, acclaimed theatre director SIR PETER HALL, Founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, celebrated theatre producer THELMA HOLT  and Shakespeare scholar PROFESSOR JONATHAN BATE from the University of Oxford are championing the Bodleian Libraries’ fundraising campaign, Sprint for Shakespeare,  which is launched this week. The campaign (http://shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk) aims to raise £20,000 by public appeal, funds needed to digitize and make available online the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, dating c. 1623, also known as the First Folio.

The renowned British actress, VANESSA REDGRAVE who made the first donation, is leading the campaign champions. She said: ‘I am very happy to help the Bodleian Libraries raise funds so that the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays may be read and studied online; this will be a wonderful achievement.’

PROFESSOR JONATHAN BATE emphasises the cultural significance of this endeavour by stating: ‘The Shakespeare First Folio is the most important secular book in the history of the western world. The digitization of the Bodleian copy, with its strange and eventful history, is a great project.’

Now, in the year of the Cultural Olympiad and the World Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare lovers are invited to join the Bodleian Libraries’ Sprint for Shakespeare campaign to digitize and publish online the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays.

Once digitized, the volume will be available online in digital format on the project website. This online resource will be accessible free of charge for anyone – from schoolchildren and scholars, to actors and directors – anywhere in the world to enjoy exploring its pages. Accompanied by articles and blogs from academics, specialists, theatre professionals and members of the public alike, we hope the website will become a dynamic forum to celebrate Shakespeare and prepare for Oxford’s celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016.

All supporters of the Sprint for Shakespeare fundraising campaign will be recognised on the First Folio website, making this a unique opportunity for anyone to associate their name with one of the greatest treasures in the Bodleian’s collection and with a project which will inspire online readers today and in the future.  To make a gift, follow the links at http://shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

With almost 1000 pages to digitize, the Sprint for Shakespeare target of £20,000 averages at £20 per page, so contributions of all sizes will have an impact in enabling us to publish a speech, a scene, an act or even a whole play online.  Funds raised will also support work to stabilize the condition of the much-loved and well-read First Folio and protect the original for the future. Any surplus beyond the £20,000 target will go towards future online projects to open up the Bodleian collections.

While copies of this book are not uncommon, Bodleian’s First Folio is a rarity because it has not been rebound or restored in almost four centuries since it was first received by the library late in 1623. Its unique marks of wear connect us with the tastes of early readers, and we can see how their hands have worn the pages of Romeo and Juliet almost to shreds, while leaving King John virtually pristine. The volume left the library in the 1660s and was returned after the exceptional response to a public fundraising campaign to buy it at the turn of the 20th century, showing the strong national affection felt both for Shakespeare and for the Bodleian’s role in protecting and championing our national cultural heritage. Today we invite the help and involvement of the public once more, this time with the goal of creating an online life for our First Folio.

Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian said: ‘The Bodleian copy of the First Folio has a special place in the Library’s history.  Its pages are not only evidence of Shakespeare’s literary genius but are also a testimony of how the Bodleian built its collections over time, as the agreement with the Stationers’ Company enabled Oxford in 1623 to be the first university to ever hold Shakespeare’s First Folio, and the inspirational philanthropy showed by hundreds of people in 1906 helped save this precious volume for the nation. The current Sprint for Shakespeare campaign gives anyone the opportunity to become part of the Bodleian legacy for the future.’


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'The works of Shakespeare, now as much as ever, tell us what it is to be alive. The ambiguity, doubt, puzzlement, pain, madness and hilarity of existence had never been expressed so well and to this day never has. To bring the First Folio, the great authoritative publication, to everyone in the world via digitisation is as noble and magnificent a project as can be imagined and I whole-heartedly support the Bodleian and all those endorsing this marvellous enterprise.'

Stephen Fry

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