More than 400 years after he wrote his last words, we still think of love in terms of Romeo and Juliet, our theatres still echo to re-imaginings of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his witticisms still pop up in everything from graffiti to protest slogans and rap.
And, in a sense, that timeless legacy began with a book that will be on display in Mumbai for three weeks, starting today.
It’s William Shakespeare’s First Folio — the first collected edition of his plays — which came out seven years after his death and contains 36 of his 37 recognised plays.
“It’s important to remember that none of Shakespeare’s original manuscripts survives — except, possibly, Sir Thomas More, which Shakespeare is believed to have revised a part of. We only know his work from printed editions — and this was the first,” says CSMVS curator Vaidehi Savnal.
Published in 1623, it is believed that about 750 copies of the First Folio were printed, of which there are 234 known surviving, according to The British Library, which holds five copies.
One of those five is now on loan, via the British Council, to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj museum.
These folio editions were large, expensive books that were seen as prestige items.
The First Folio is, in fact, one of the most valuable printed books in the world — a copy sold at a Christie’s auction in New York for $6.16 million in in 2001.
“On Friday, there will be a talk by Adrian Edwards, head of printed collections at the British Library, on early Shakespeare and the folios in general,” Savnal says. “This is a great opportunity for a new generation to connect with a presence that has run through the course of literature for four centuries.”
What: Exhibition of Shakespeare’s First Folio
Where: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, Fort
When: January 19 to March 8
Entry fee: Rs 70 for adults; Rs 20 for children