Indian film icon Amitabh Bachchan played many characters from William Shakespeare's plays over the years, but when he was shown the First Folio of the plays dated 1623 at the ancient Bodleian Library, he was awestruck and rendered almost speechless.
"It's incredible," he simply said, feelingly moving his hand over the pages containing dialogues he had delivered in several stage performances during his career spanning over four decades.
Bachchan was on a visit to Oxford at the invitation of the university's Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS). Besides hosting a reception for him at the centre, he was shown around the ancient university, including the Bodleian Library, which was established in 1602."A great actor is touching the work of the great playwright," remarked Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections of the Library, as Bachchan turned the pages of the priceless Shakespearean document.
"We often have scholars coming to see these rare collections, but this is the first time that a great actor is visiting us to see the work of Shakespeare," Ovenden said. The work is titled Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, better known to scholars as the First Folio.
Printed in folio format, it contains 36 plays that have been the delight of generations over centuries. Another priceless item shown to Bachchan was the manuscript copy of the first English translation of Kalidas' 'Shakuntala', by William Jones, dated 1788.
A scholar of ancient India, Jones founded the Asiatic Society in Kolkata in 1784. He was also shown the original copy of the Magna Carta, the 1215 charter that limited the power of the monarchy and laid the foundation for a series of historical developments that led to the rule of constitutional law and democracy.Bachchan was received at the OCHS by its director, Professor Gavin Flood, who is an expert on South Asian traditions, particularly Hindu Tantra, and senior staff including Shaunaka Rishi Das and Lal Krishna. Much to the delight of Indian students and others who recognised him, Bachchan walked along Oxford streets to visit the Bodleian Library, where he was received by Vice Chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton.
Later in the evening, Bachchan said: "I have spent the most enjoyable hours in this historic institution. It has been a treat that will remain in memory for long.
"It is a great honour to be received so warmly by this ancient and renowned university".