The brightest Heauen of Inuention

To celebrate the end of the week that saw the launch of the updated Bodleian First Folio website with the introduction of digital text, its talented designer, Monica Messaggi Kaya, got creative with the Prologue of Henry V and the famous engraved portrait of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare - Henry V prologue

All the images and text, which are downloadable from the website, are released under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Make your own creative use of them, and email us the results!

Count Me In

Guest blogger, Katrin Schlee, writes…

A big call to arms for all who know the importance of the literary legacy Shakespeare left in his wake and who wish to preserve a book that irrevocably finds itself within the compass of time’s bending sickle.  Albert Camus said: “Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”  Let’s be generous… let’s give something!  Today.

A Gift that Speaks

A gift that speaks of how I care,
A sum so small and yet so great.
With many others I will share
The sprint that leads to fortune’s gate.

And time, its keeper, has no eyes,
It taunts the rich and mocks the poor,
Its truth? Decay.  It tells no lies
To book and binding, bard and boor.

Go, turn to dust that precious book!
Dissolve the print!  We’ll save the verse!
We’ll give you eyes, so take a look:
Art needs a carriage, not a hearse.

Katrin Schlee

Man-eating Money Maniacs

Sprint for Shakespeare has taken a life of its own, if a quick Google search is anything to go by. We’re delighted that it has caught so many people’s imaginations.

The generosity of the public enabled the Bodleian to buy back its original copy of the book in 1906. The Library Records (shelfmarks c. 1259, c. 1260, c. 1261, and c.1262) contain many touching letters from donors, large and small, some of which we have already quoted from. We’ll publish more of these letters throughout the campaign.

But pleas for philanthropy, or (to use today’s terminology) crowd-funding, were not met with universal sympathy. The headmaster of a Surrey school liked neither the approach nor the subject matter: “why all this fuss about Shakespeare?” Our champions — actors, directors, teachers, and academics — argue more eloquently against accusations of “literary provincialism” than I could.

Read the letter and make your own mind up about the debate!

SURREY   7 2 [19]06

Dear Mr Librarian,

I have to thank you for the circular which I received from you this morning about the repurchase for the Bodleian of the fist folio Shakespeare. My finances do not permit of my offering any contribution, but it may amuse your eminence to read why I should not offer anything if I could.

Supposing the book to be worth three thousand pounds, or three millions, the present possessor ought to present it to the Bodleian, if it is a question of the honour of the Library. And he ought to do that even if he was very hard up himself. That is the way my sentiment looks at the matter.

Secondly, having due regard to the cost of existing in this present wicked world, it is quite absurd that any copy of any book should command such a price. Only the man-eating money-maniacs of America could have started such an inept fashion. Look at the cou[n]terfeit presentments of their physiognomies in this week’s “Sketch” – if you ever come in contact with so vulgar a production) – and say whether such soulless animals deserve to be dignified with the title of Man. By all means let them have EVERYTHING that can be bought for money – the Pope’s tiara and the King’s crown and a majority in the House of Commons – and a free passage across the Styx. And let them have the Shakespeare, if the present possessor’s sentiment and conscience allows him to let them have it. The only cure for covetousness is satiety – and the Styx.

Thirdly, I have myself the same passionate love for good books that you yourself have – you, the embodied Bodleian. But if I want a Shakespeare, the University Press gives me a far better copy than Mr Turbutt’s for the sum of six shillings. And when I do not want it any longer, I can safely give that copy to any intelligent boy who wants to know something about English; and when I want Shakespeare again, the University Press will provide me with a second one (it is really now the seventh) at the same modest figure. Books of historic interest should of course be in your charge; but they should be always presented – the donor does himself an honour by giving to the Bodleian, and he ought to feel insulted by the mere suggestion for of his taking money for his gift, as though he were dealing in cattle or dirty South African shares. If I were starving and possessed the Medicean Vergil, I would give it into your charge and scorn to say anything about the starvation. I will send you by return of post the most valuable book I possess, if you want it, and have not got it; it is a Vulgate printed by Froben of Basle, November 1st, 1495.

Fourthly, why all this fuss about Shakespeare? If you were offered genuine manuscripts of the lost plays of Sophocles, I can imagine that heaven and earth ought to be moved to put them where they could be seen by competent persons and properly edited. The University Press would then provide us, who love Sophocles and decent literature, with copies, much better for practical purposes than the originals, at a reasonable sum. But why all this fuss about Shakespeare? Isn’t it an artificially induced furore? Does it not remind you of the intense enthusiasm for printing millions of copies of the English Bible – an enthusiasm which is the special characteristic of a class of people who are as ignorant as sin of the real meaning and history of that collection of books? Why should the great, the dignified, Bodleian Library lend itself to the encouragement of such literary provincialism?

With genuine respect, and half-genuine sorrow (to fool with words after the Elizabethan style) I subscribe myself

Yours sincerely

Your voices

We asked for your thoughts on Shakespeare, and you have been kind enough to send them. We’re grateful to you all, and look forward to sharing them on this blog over the coming months.

Today, as the Sprint for Shakespeare campaign is launched, we’re delighted to publish our first guest post, from Dr Will Sharpe.

Come and join the conversation! Email us your posts for our blog,, or add your comments to the blog.

Many voices

The covers of the First Folio enclose many voices,” Dr Edmund King said, in passing.

The phrase has stuck in my mind. Edmund, whose research includes eighteenth-century editors of Shakespeare, was talking about dramatic production. Alongside Shakespeare’s voice are those of many collaborators: co-writers, revisers, and actors all contributed to Shakespeare’s play texts before they even reached a publisher.

Within the First Folio, some of these voices are named.

Ben Jonson’s beautiful poem ‘To the memory of my beloved, The AUTHOR’ sits next to others by Leonard Digges, Hugh Holland, and James Mabbe.

A letter of dedication is written by John Heminge and Henry Condell, friends and fellow actors of Shakespeare. Less formally, they also write a letter “To the great Variety of Readers.” The names of these two men, who speak so warmly of Shakespeare, are also listed among the “Principall Actors”.

Edward Blount, Isaac Jaggard, John Smethwick, and William Aspley are named as the publishers. Jaggard’s name also stands for his father, William, who died while the book was in production.

Your voice can be added to those of Aspley, Blount, Condell, Digges, Heminge, Holland, Jaggard, Jonson, Mabbe, Smethwick, and the many printing-house workers whose names are lost to us. By donating to the campaign, you will help open our copy of this book to the world, and your name will appear online, alongside it. You can name someone you would like your donation to be dedicated to, and their name will be added too.

There is another way to add your voice. We are looking for guest bloggers to write posts for us to publish here.

We want to hear what you think of Shakespeare — of the First Folio, of film or theatre productions you’ve seen, your favourite speech, your worst character, the first teacher who inspired love for Shakespeare, a character you acted, a play you directed, bits that make you laugh, and what makes you cry…

Post your thoughts on other people’s blogposts in the Comments below, or email us your own post to be published here:

The idea

Dr Emma Smith’s research into the history of the Bodleian’s copy of the First Folio led to a conversation about how more study of the physical book could be made possible.

From her idea to make the precious and fragile book available to many more people than could see the book itself, Sprint for Shakespeare was born.

We are asking you to raise money to stabilize the physical book, take digital photographs of it, and publish them online to share with the world.