Stonyhurst to celebrate 400 years of Shakepeare’s First Folio

21 April 2023

Stonyhurst has announced its Museum and Archives will host an exhibition this summer, ‘Folio 400: A Summer of Shakespeare’, featuring its very own copy of the First Folio of William Shakespeare as part of the worldwide 400th-anniversary celebrations.

To celebrate 400 years since the publication of Shakepeare’s First Folio, the display at Stonyhurst will explore the history and stories of approximately 40 objects from its Museum and Archives, each of which have unique links to Shakespeare’s plays that feature within the First Folio. The focal point of the exhibition will be Stonyhurst’s copy of an original First Folio which will be exhibited in the historical Do Room at the College. The display will touch on the significance of St Omers Jesuit drama, and the part played by the accrual at St Omers College of Jesuit relics from all over the world, and their influence on the dramatic performances for which Stonyhurst College was so famous for. The exhibition will be open to the public through a ticketed event from 7th July every Friday and Saturday until 17th August.

In 1623, it is believed 750 copies of the First Folio were printed, seven years after the death of its author, and was the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collection of plays. 235 copies are known to have survived with 50 books still at home in the UK. Stonyhurst proudly holds one of these copies within its Museum and Archives, the oldest collection of museum objects in the English-speaking world.

One of the objects on display at the summer exhibition is a caiman, a South American relative to the alligator. This specimen was captured by the famous early 19th century naturalist, Charles Waterton, a pupil of Stonyhurst in 1796. His extensive collection of animal specimens was donated to Stonyhurst in 1915 by his granddaughter. Within the First Folio, the play of Anthony and Cleopatra features an amusing, and dismissive, exchange of comments between Antony and Lepidus which was central to the politics of the play. The crocodile represents Egypt, and the conversation between the two Romans reveals their lack of interest in the animal’s cultural significance in any other terms but their own as they pursue the conquest of Egypt for the Roman Empire.

To enable wider access to Shakespeare’s folio, Stonyhurst has invested in a new museum case, funded through donations. The display case will bring the Shakespeare First Folio into the heart of the College during the Folio400 anniversary for pupils. Our pupils will benefit from daily access to one of the most famous books in the world, exploring Shakespeare’s world, absorbing his writings and learning about his life at their own pace and time of their choosing. Academic staff at Stonyhurst College and Stonyhurst St Mary’s Hall Prep School will be inspired to draw up lessons, provoke conversations, and even put on dramatic performances to spark young minds by enriching the curriculum. The pages of the Folio will be turned daily so pupils can read through the plays in short bursts.

Stonyhurst is looking forward to sharing this significant part of history with its pupils and the wider community.

Book your place here.

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