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Highlights from The John Wolfson Rare Book Collection

Stand: Mezzanine Level

Visitors to Firsts - London’s Rare Book Fair, which is being held in Battersea Park from Friday 7th – Sunday 9th June, will have a thrilling opportunity to see Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) which returns to the UK after a forty year absence. It is being exhibited with other historic source books, also from the John Wolfson Rare Book Collection, and stage props from Shakespeare’s Globe, the Fair’s 2019 Charity Partner.

John Wolfson bequeathed his Rare Book Collection to the Globe in 2008. The collection includes all four Shakespeare folios, quartos of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, sources of Shakespeare’s plays in their original languages, nearly every Restoration adaptation of a Shakespeare play, and some witty Shakespeare ephemera. This exhibition has been presented to draw wider public attention to the Globe’s Project Prospero through which it is fundraising for a new Shakespeare library. The exhibition has been curated by John Wolfson and designed by Kim Field at 4D Projects.

Project Prospero - ‘Towards A New Shakespeare Library’

2019 is an important anniversary year for Shakespeare’s Globe. Richard Burbage, the first Romeo, Hamlet, Macbeth and Prospero, died in 1619. 14th June 2019 marks the centenary of the birth of Sam Wanamaker, founder of Shakespeare’s Globe. Wanamaker dedicated the last 23 years of his life to raising awareness and funds to rebuild the first (1599) Globe as part of a centre dedicated to education and performance. He died in 1993, four years before the Globe Theatre opened. Wanamaker’s vision included a performance archive and a library.


The works to be exhibited at the Fair include:

• Shakespeare’s First Folio: the first edition of his plays Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, which was published in London seven years after his death in 1623, and is arguably the most famous book in world literature. Of the 36 plays assembled by his friends and fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell, 18 were being published for the first time and without the First Folio, it is likely that half of Shakespeare’s plays including Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth and Julius Caesar would have been lost forever. Of an estimated original print run of about 750 copies, only 235 First Folios are known to survive. A third of these are held in the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington DC, and the rest are carefully safeguarded in institutional or private holdings, so public opportunities to see a First Folio are rare. This copy was acquired by John Wolfson in the 1970s.

• A first edition of Rima et prosa by Luigi da Porto (1539) containing La Giulietta which is the source for Romeo and Juliet along with a dagger used in the play held at the Globe;

• A first edition of La prima[-quarta] parte de Le novella by Matteo Bandello (1554-73) from which four stories were adapted by Shakespeare along with fabric samplers used in the Globe’s 2002 production of Twelfth Night;

• A first edition of The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher (1634). This play was not included in the First Folio (1623) or any of the subsequent Shakespeare folios.