Ireland’s only copy of the first edition of William Shakespeare’s collected plays is going on public display, 400 years after it was published.
The exhibition is being launched by author Anne Enright on Thursday, with the First Folio to remain on display in the Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin until June.
Andy Murphy, Professor of English at Trinity and curator of the exhibition, said the book is vitally important for the world’s knowledge of Shakespeare, and without it many of his most well-known plays would have been lost.
“Shakespeare died in 1616. And at the point when he died, only about half of his plays had been brought to print. So the other half would have been lost, had it not been for the fact that the First Folio appeared in 1623,” he said.
“Without it, we would have lost plays like Julius Caesar and Macbeth. As well as others, such as Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors and The Winter’s Tale.”
According to Prof Murphy, Trinity has the only copy of the book in Ireland. “So we thought we would put it on display to mark the anniversary but we wanted to go further than that. We’ve got a couple of other things as part of the exhibition as well.”
There will also be material on display from the 19th century about Shakespeare and Irish politics and the Irish language.
The much-sought after book has also been digitised and it is now available to the public to explore online, while a one-day symposium on it will run on Friday.
Around 750 copies of the book were printed, with only around 230 still surviving. Trinity’s copy was acquired at auction following the death of academic Arthur Browne in 1805.
Having been in existence for 400 years, there are a number of marks that denote its age and the journey it has been on since it was printed. There are drink stains on some of the pages, scorch marks due to what is believed to have been a candle dropped on to an open page, as well as a paw print.
There is also a set of unintelligible inscriptions, which researchers believe could possibly be an early form of shorthand.
Members of the public who would like to view the book in person will be able to do so when they are buying tickets for the Book of Kells, Prof Murphy said.