Shakespeare’s anthology ‘First Folio’ on display in Singapore

Singaporeans have the opportunity of a brush (literally) with the world’s greatest English playwright William Shakespeare. The National Library is presently showcasing a rare copy of the Bard’s legendary First Folio, the first anthology compiling his world’s famous plays.

William Shakespeare's first anthology of plays- First Folio,being showcased at the National Library.
William Shakespeare's first anthology of plays- First Folio,being showcased at the National Library. Photo courtesy:

About 750 copies of the First Folio were published in 1623, and only 230 copies survive to this day, most in private collections.

The book will  be on display in the National Library till April 23. It has been loaned to the library from University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries.

Though some of Shakespeare’s plays had been published individually, First Folio was the first time that all his works were assembled together and shaped into a definitive volume. It is also a prized book as 18 famous plays, including ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Tempest’, might have been lost forever had they not been part of this anthology.

Though this historic book remains hands-off to the public, visitors can browse digital versions on two tablets. Alternatively, copies can be downloaded at

The National Library will also hold a public talk on the First Folio by Shakespeare experts from the UK on March 26. The public talk will be delivered by Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, and Professor Rhodri Lewis of the Faculty of English Language and Literature, University of Oxford. They will discuss the history of the First Folio and, using Hamlet as a guide, explain how the First Folio helps us understand Shakespeare’s works.

Students can also participate in a free workshop on Shakespeare’s literature and theatre designed for them.

William Shakespeare is the greatest playwright of English literature.
William Shakespeare is the greatest playwright of English literature. Photo courtesy:

National Library assistant curator Georgina Wong said, “A lot of Singaporeans, especially students, might have encountered Shakespeare and his works in school, so this would be a good opportunity for them to see an important literary artifact.  The status it now has shows Shakespeare’s timeless appeal.”

She added that this appeal extends to Asia, with many of the remaining copies of the First Folio found in Japan. To underscore Shakespeare’s Asian links, the library showcase also cited examples of how Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted, including a mak yong (a Malaysian dance drama) version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Singaporean director Ong Keng Sen’s ground-breaking experimental take on King Lear.

Ashraf Jamal
Ashraf Jamal – Senior Writer

Ashraf Jamal brings a rare depth to writing equipped with a degree in journalism, a postgraduate degree in political science, and a degree in law from the Allahabad University. His experience includes editing and publishing the Northern India Patrika and writing for Times of India for almost a decade covering just about any topic under the sun including NRIs and Indian diaspora.


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