First edition of the Bard's plays on display

Leafing through the electronic copy, one can see that plays such as Romeo And Juliet were most favoured by past readers as their pages are more tattered.
Leafing through the electronic copy, one can see that plays such as Romeo And Juliet were most favoured by past readers as their pages are more tattered.PHOTO: NATIONAL LIBRARY BOARD

Visitors can flip through an electronic copy of the almost 400-year-old folio at the National Library Building

One of the most sought-after books in the world, a priceless, nearly 400-year-old first edition of William Shakespeare's plays, is on display at the National Library Building until April 23.

Although visitors cannot touch the hardbound title displayed in a sealed glass case on the 10th floor, they can flip through an electronic copy of its 950 pages, as part of the exhibition, Shakespeare In Print: The First Folio.

The First Folio is the first-ever printed collection of Shakespeare's plays. It contains 36 scripts and was brought out in London in 1623. This copy is on loan from the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford.

Researchers say at most 750 copies of the First Folio were printed and there are 230 surviving copies today.

  • VIEW IT / SHAKESPEARE IN PRINT: THE FIRST FOLIO

  • WHERE: Level 10 Gallery, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Till April 23, 10am to 9pm daily

    ADMISSION: Free

    COMEDIES, HISTORIES AND TRAGEDIES: PUBLIC TALK

    WHAT: Learn why the First Folio matters

    WHERE: The Pod, Level 16, National Library Building

    WHEN: Sunday, 11am

    ADMISSION: Free, register at http://bit.ly/2npaF8l

    COMEDIES, HISTORIES AND TRAGEDIES: SHOW AND TELL

    WHAT: Learn fun facts about the First Folio

    WHERE: Level 10 Gallery, National Library Building

    WHEN: Sunday, 1 to 5pm

    ADMISSION: Free

The editors of the First Folio classified Shakespeare's plays into comedies, histories and tragedies - a system now widely recognised. The scripts, printed with no stage directions, established the authoritative version of the playwright's work.

Paging through the electronic copy, one can see which were the plays most favoured by past readers. The pages of love stories such as Romeo And Juliet are more tattered.

"The histories are less popular," says Ms Georgina Wong, 25, assistant curator at the National Library. Without the First Folio preserving the text, plays such as Macbeth and Julius Caesar might have been lost to the world as companies opted not to present them.

The copy on display here contains annotations by the original owner, a scholar of Shakespeare named Edmond Malone. Malone, who died in 1812, paid extra to have illustrations for some of the plays tipped into his copy of the First Folio.

Apart from viewing the book, visitors to the exhibition can learn about Asian adaptations of Shakespeare's works such as Singapore director Ong Keng Sen's 1997 adaptation of King Lear. The multimedia resources on view here come from the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive, an online database set up by government and theatre bodies in South-east Asia and East Asia.

On Sunday, visitors can learn more about the Bodleian Libraries' copies of the First Folio through a talk and show-and-tell by Mr Richard Ovenden, who holds the senior executive position of Bodley's Librarian, and Professor Rhodri Lewis of Oxford's faculty of English language and literature.

Around the island, Jurong Regional Library, Esplanade Public Library and Marine Parade Public Library are hosting #Shakespeare. The display turns stories from Shakespeare's plays into tweets by key characters from plays such as Romeo And Juliet, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night and Hamlet.

•Along with the exhibition, the National Library is offering workshops for secondary school students on Memorable Heroes And Villains Of Shakespeare. To book places in the two-hour session taught by drama educators, e-mail visitnls@nlb.gov.sg.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'First edition of the Bard's plays on display'. Print Edition | Subscribe