In 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare’s death, a compilation of 36 of his plays were published together in one volume. No more than 750 copies of this ‘First Folio’ were printed and today only about 230 survive, with fewer than 50 in the British Isles.
First Folios took over two years to print and, due to printing techniques used at the time, it is believed that no two copies of the book are identical. At the time of Shakespeare’s death, in 1616, 18 of his plays had not reached print. They only existed in handwritten actors’ stage notes and Shakespeare’s own drafts. Included in these unpublished works were some of Shakespeare’s most popular plays such as Macbeth, Twelfth Night and The Tempest. It is unlikely that any of these plays would have survived without the Folio. It is for reasons like this that it is thought of as the most important book in English literature.
In the early 1930s, a Shakespeare First Folio was donated to the museum by Miss Ann Wilkinson, daughter of a local businessman. Thanks to funding from Renaissance Yorkshire and a generous bequest from a private citizen, the Museum has the opportunity to display the First Folio for the first time in decades.
Because of its rarity, the folio needs to be kept in specialised conditions. Museum staff have created a new display area which allows the folio to be kept in low lighting. The display includes information about the folio’s history and an audio-visual interpretation voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart. The First Folio is on permanent display and the pages will be turned regularly.
The Skipton First Folio is currently one of only four First Folios on permanent display in the world; the others are on display at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, the British Library in London and the Folger Library in WashingtonD.C.