Although this column is regularly published on Fridays, many will feel that the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first Folio Shakespeare’s plays deserves commemoration on the day in question.
On 8 November 1623, a pair of enterprising actors and businessmen, John Heminges and Henry Condell, having collected 36 plays attributed to (and we fervently believe largely written by) William Shakespeare, published the first folio edition of Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies estimated at 750 copies.
While they must have realised that their enterprise was significant and they hoped highly profitable, the pair could not have known that, 400 years on, they would still be remembered for the venture and that their achievement continues to be celebrated around the world.
Remarkably, 235 copies are still in existence and William Shakespeare is universally acclaimed as, at the very least, the greatest playwright who has ever lived, and quite possibly the greatest writer not just in the English language but in any.
His works continue to be performed on a constant basis, even if there has been a marked drop-off in London more recently as the not-quite-recession has bitten.
While the anniversary may not be commemorated as broadly as it deserves to be on the London stage, there is much activity elsewhere to recognise the achievement and boost the brand.
Appropriately, the Royal Shakespeare Company has a copy of the First Folio on permanent display in Stratford-upon-Avon seven days a week.
In addition, it is launching a free, five-part podcast series with the less than snappy title of My Shakespeare, The Folio Roadshow: The People, History and Stories of Shakespeare's First Folio. This is hosted by its artistic director emeritus, Sir Gregory Doran, and can be accessed via the RSC web site, as well as multiple podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes).
Avid followers of British Theatre Guide might also recall a review of My Shakespeare, Sir Gregory’s account of his experiences directing and/or producing each and every one of Shakespeare's plays in the First Folio.
At the same time, the RSC is continuing its nationwide search for the most exciting voices of today. Ironically, they are looking to mirror Shakespeare’s 37 plays, although the First Folio stopped at 36.
The team at Shakespeare’s Globe has also had a copy on display but might reasonably regard the anniversary as of relatively limited significance, given its dedication to celebrating the playwright’s work on a daily basis and are responsible for the majority of main-stage productions in London at present.
The BBC has got in on the act with what it describes as an “ambitious pan-BBC season” featuring a new series on BBC Two entitled Shakespeare: Rise of the Genius, a selection of archive performances on BBC Four, a rerun of The Hollow Crown and assorted features on Radio 3 including a trio of dramas under the umbrella title of The Hamlet Season and on Radio 4. The best way of sourcing their varied selection might be via BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds.
Streaming service Marquee TV is also promoting its wide range of Shakespeare-related works including recordings of productions at the RSC and Shakespeare’s Globe as well as ballets and operas.
It is inevitable that there will also be alternative ways to delve into the First Folio including a couple of books dedicated to the subject and a feature film, scripted by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, and exhibition at the British Library.
There is even a Folio 400 web site dedicated to the big event.
On the basis that Shakespeare is forever rather than merely to be remembered on a single day, readers are strongly advised to spend some cold nights this winter relishing his genius either on stage, screen, paper (should that be linen?) or in audio form.