Shakespeare's First Folio

Discover the secrets of a 400-year-old copy of Shakespeare's First Folio – the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. Without this extraordinary book, several of Shakespeare's best-loved and most-performed plays would have been completely lost to us, including 'Twelfth Night', 'Macbeth' and 'The Tempest'.

Published in 1623, around 230 copies of Shakespeare's First Folio survive today and the V&A collection holds three copies, donated in the 19th century. Watch Elizabeth James, Senior Librarian at the National Art Library, turn the pages of the John Jones copy (named after its donor), to reveal evidence of how the book was originally created, and signs of use – including hand-written annotations by an early owner. Meanwhile Harriet Reed, Curator of Contemporary Performance, explores the significance of the First Folio today, its influence on generations of theatre-makers, as well as film, music and popular culture.

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You can see a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio on display in Re:Imagining Musicals from August 2023.

Discover more from our Books and Theatre and Performance collections online, or visit the National Art Library.

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© Victoria and Albert Museum, London