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My Shakespeare: The Folio Roadshow

Windsor Castle First Folio Celebration 2023. Gregory Doran (RSC Artistic Director Emeritus) and Shriti Vadera (RSC Chair) with Their Majesties The King and Queen. Photo by Ian Jones © RSC.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio with the launch of a new five-part podcast series hosted by Gregory Doran (RSC Artistic Director Emeritus).

My Shakespeare, The Folio Roadshow: The People, History and Stories of Shakespeare's First Folio explores the remarkable history of the Folio, arguably the most famous secular text in the world, through Gregory’s expert eyes. Greg, seen as ‘One of the great Shakespearians of his generation’ (Sunday Times), has made it his mission to visit as many of the copies of the First Folio in existence today travelling to libraries, museums and private collections in 10 countries in the anniversary year.

Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare, 1623. The frontispiece from the First Folio, the first collected book of Shakespeare's works. © RSC.

All episodes will be available to download later this month for free via the RSC website, as well as multiple podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes).

Commenting on his journey, Greg Doran said; “My Folio Roadshow came about when I realised just how many extraordinary stories connect the 235 surviving copies, and I decided to see as many of them as I could and to share those stories.

"There’s the one with the bullet wound; one with muddy cat paw prints, or a rusty imprint of a pair of scissors, or a child’s rather rude drawing. The one owned by an eighteenth-century sculptor, and a millionaire in 1920’s Hollywood. The owner who died on the Titanic, and the owner who wrote the lyrics to Spider-Man. The perfect copy in Germany, and the grubby copy in Skipton which might have been read by the Brontës. And the one shown to me at Windsor Castle by HRH King Charles III, once owned by his predecessor Charles I, and read before his execution.

“My journey has introduced me to the people who look after these precious volumes, who try to interpret them in a modern context, and who often grapple with the colonial legacy of Shakespeare. It’s been a fascinating journey of exploration, in the Folio’s quatercentenary year.”

A catalogue of the several Comedies, Histories and Tragedies contained in this volume', First Folio, 1623. © RSC.

Beginning in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, the five-part podcast will examine the history and significance of the First Folio, charting its diverse history of ownership across the centuries and delving further into the unique and fascinating stories that populate the pages.

In 2023, Greg directed his 50th production for the RSC, Cymbeline. This also marked the culmination of Greg’s personal journey through Shakespeare’s canon, having either directed, worked on or produced every single play in the Folio during his career.

A List of the principle actors included in the first folio.© RSC.

Meanwhile, the RSC’s nationwide search for the most exciting new voices of today, 37 Plays, reaches its conclusion with script-in-hand readings taking place in theatres and communities across the UK until 18 November.

Inspired by the scope and timeless relevance of Shakespeare’s plays, the search attracted 2,000+ submissions from across the UK. The final 37 plays come from writers all over the United Kingdom: from Craigavon to Dawlish, from Cardiff to Edinburgh and Skipton to Wolverhampton and from writers ranging from age 9 to 65. Nearly a third of the selected 37 plays are by writers who have identified as first-time writers.

The chosen 37 Plays will be awarded a fee for future publication, performance and/or broadcast. Any submission subsequently commissioned for production will be subject to usual commission processes approved by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.

Pippa Hill, Head of New Work at the Royal Shakespeare Company commented: “People often forget that, despite his global fame, William Shakespeare was a first-time writer himself once. And were it not for the publication of the First Folio in 1623, eighteen of his plays might have been lost to us forever.

“To celebrate this milestone in world literature, we wanted to create a living folio of new plays, which captured the soul of our own age, through the voices of the most promising playwrights living and working in the UK today. Much like Shakespeare’s own works, these plays offer a remarkable snapshot of our world today and raise important questions about the issues that matter to us most; from climate crisis, to living life online, to questions of class, faith, race, war and consent.

“From our youngest writers to our most experienced a picture emerges of a country wrestling with big questions, sharing a sense of loss and exploring new identities. The collection moves wonderfully from the domestic to the supernatural, from conventional structures used to tell wholly new stories to new frontiers of theatrical storytelling as we know it”.

Upcoming play readings include: Lewisham to Llandudno by Samantha Robinson, Godmodders and Metagamers by Hannah Kennedy, Russell by Eoin McAndrew, Land Wreck by Mia Lloyd, NOT by Lisa Parry, This is a Gift by Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir, Abandoned (relaxed performance) by Felicity Williamson, Frenemies by Edward Keppel, Fish by Maximilian Kufuor, Bruno by Dylan Punch, Life Goes On by Isabella James and Stargazer by Grace Hemmings-Buckler. For further information, see the schedule below.

The readings mark the conclusion of a year-long search to discover the most promising new playwrights of today and to inspire a conversation about what the future of dramatic writing might look and feel like, on and off our stages.

The Play's the Thing: Young people and families, April 2017. A permanent exhibition about the RSC's performance history in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo by Sara Beaumont. © RSC.

About the First Folio - In 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare’s death, his friends John Heminges and Henry Condell published 36 of his plays in what is now known as the First Folio. Until that point only 18 of the plays had been published, in small paperback editions known as quartos.

Of a possible original print run of 750 copies of the First Folio, 235 are known to survive today. There are around 50 First Folios in the UK and Ireland; 150 in the US (83 of which are in the Folger Library in Washington); 15 in Japan, 3 in the Southern Hemisphere, 1 in Canada, and the remainder in Europe. The Folio was first registered for publication on November 8, 1623, and less than a month later, the first known purchase took place, on December 5.

Plays that might have been lost were it not for the publication of the First Folio include The Tempest, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Measure for Measure, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, All’s Well that ends Well, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale, King John, The First Part of Henry the Sixth, Henry the Eighth, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra and Cymbeline.

The Play's The Thing, photos of the completed exhibition space and with pupils from Christchurch Primary school.

Photo by Andrew Fox © RSC.

The RSC is home to a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which visitors can access for free as part of the theatre’s permanent exhibition; The Play’s The Thing. Items currently on display include:

Armour worn by Laurence Olivier as Coriolanus in Coriolanus (1959)

Costume worn by John Gielgud as Prospero in The Tempest (1957)

Cap worn by Deborah Findlay as Olivia in Twelfth Night (1987)

Headdress worn by Mark Rylance as Ariel in The Tempest (1981)

Chain worn by Kenneth Branagh as Henry V in Henry V (1984)

The Play’s The Thing is open daily from 12noon – 7.15pm (5pm on Sundays).

Further details:


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