Some of the leading lights of British theatre and film have pledged their support for the Bodleian Libraries’ campaign to digitize the first volume of Shakespeare’s plays.
Actress Vanessa Redgrave and actor Stephen Fry have given their support to the fundraising campaign, Sprint for Shakespeare, which is launched this week. The campaign aims to raise £20,000 by public appeal, funds needed to digitize and make available online the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, dating from around 1623, also known as the First Folio. The Sprint for Shakespeare campaign marks the Bodleian's celebrations of the Cultural Olympiad and the World Shakespeare Festival.
Redgrave made the first donation and is leading the campaign champions. She said: 'I am very happy to help the Bodleian Libraries raise funds so that the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays may be read and studied online; this will be a wonderful achievement.'
Actor and comedian Stephen Fry said of the campaign: 'First Folio as a phrase sounds so distant from our everyday lives, but this priceless and extraordinary collection of plays turned the world upside down (or should that be the right way up?) every bit as much as Newton was to do nearly 60 or so years later.
'To bring the First Folio, the great authoritative publication, to everyone in the world via digitisation is as noble and magnificent a project as can be imagined and I whole-heartedly support the Bodleian and all those endorsing this marvellous enterprise.'
Oxford University Professor Jonathan Bate added: 'The Shakespeare First Folio is the most important secular book in the history of the western world. The digitization of the Bodleian copy, with its strange and eventful history, is a great project.'
Other supporters of the campaign include acclaimed theatre director and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company Sir Peter Hall and theatre producer Thelma Holt.
Once digitized, the volume will be available online in digital format, and will be accessible free of charge for anyone anywhere in the world. Accompanied by articles and blogs from academics, specialists, theatre professionals and members of the public alike, the Bodleian aims to make the website a dynamic forum to celebrate Shakespeare and prepare for Oxford's celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016.
The project will involve the digitization of almost 1,000 pages, and funds will also support work to stabilize the condition of the First Folio and protect the original for the future. Shakespeare's First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, and the first collected edition of any English playwright, published seven years after his death by two of his fellow actors.
The Bodleian's First Folio is unique in not having been been rebound or restored in almost four centuries since it was first received by the library late in 1623. The volume left the library in the 1660s and was returned after the exceptional response to a public fundraising campaign to buy it at the turn of the 20th century.
Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley's Librarian said: 'The Bodleian copy of the First Folio has a special place in the Library's history. Its pages are not only evidence of Shakespeare's literary genius but are also a testimony of how the Bodleian built its collections over time, as the agreement with the Stationers' Company enabled Oxford in 1623 to be the first university to ever hold Shakespeare’s First Folio, and the inspirational philanthropy showed by hundreds of people in 1906 helped save this precious volume for the nation. The current Sprint for Shakespeare campaign gives anyone the opportunity to become part of the Bodleian legacy for the future.'