“Making Shakespeare: The First Folio” - Featuring a Cherished Free Library Artifact

By Bridget G. RSS Tue, November 21, 2023

The Free Library of Philadelphia is the proud custodian of an astounding literary artifact in our Rare Book Department: a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio that belonged to English poet and intellectual John Milton (1608–1674).

2023 marks the 400th anniversary year of the publication of the First Folio — the first printed collection of Shakespeare's plays like The TempestJulius Caesar, and Macbeth, among others. Of the 750 First Folios that were originally printed in 1623, only 235 remain, and the Free Library has one of about 40 complete copies left worldwide.

In honor of the First Folio's publication anniversary, PBS recently released Making Shakespeare: The First Folio this month, available for streaming on PBS.org.

Narrated by Emmy, Tony, and Grammy award-winning actress/singer Audra McDonald, this documentary tells of the challenges and complexities of publishing the First Folio seven years after Shakespeare's death, as well as Folios with notable owners like King Charles I, as well as the Free Library's copy once owned by John Milton. Emmy award-winning actor Brian Cox and wife/fellow actor Nicole Ansari also delve into American Shakespeare lover and businessman Henry Folger's First Folio obsession in the film. Additionally, the documentary highlights contemporary adaptations and understandings of Shakespeare's plays by students today.

Milton's copy of the First Folio can be viewed digitally from the Free Library's website.

Learn more about the discovery of this incredible piece of literary history in this 2019 article from The Guardian

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