Welcome to the Summer of Shakespeare
To celebrate 400 years since the publication of Shakepeare’s First Folio, the display at Stonyhurst will explore the history and stories of approximately 40 objects from its Museum and Archives, each of which have unique links to Shakespeare’s plays that feature within the First Folio. The focal point of the exhibition will be Stonyhurst’s copy of an original First Folio which will be exhibited in the historical Do Room at the College. The display will touch on the significance of St Omers Jesuit drama, and the part played by the accrual at St Omers College of Jesuit relics from all over the world, and their influence on the dramatic performances for which Stonyhurst College was so famous for. The exhibition will be open to the public through a ticketed event from October until November.
Shakespeare, the English Jesuit Province and St Omers
The printing of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the foundation of the English Jesuit Province and the first work by the noted English Jesuit playwright Joseph Simons at St Omers are linked by more than an arbitrary date. They draw together Shakespeare’s work, the mission of the English Jesuits, the global educational work of the Jesuit order and the cultural output of the College of St Omers.
The publication of William Shakespeare’s First Folio in November 1623 made his work available to the St Omers college stage. Previously the college produced home-written dramatic pieces. Shakespeare’s work, and particularly his history plays, provided a rich new source of high-quality drama, underpinning a pre-Reformation pro-Catholic message, which was adapted for performance on stage under the strict Jesuit rules of the 1599 Ratio Studiorum.
The arrival of the playwright Joseph Simons as a Master at St Omers in 1623 facilitated the introduction of Shakespeare’s work to the pupils, and the performance of some of his plays on the school stage; the first known performance of Shakespeare on any school stage.
During the 17th century, at a time when Shakespeare was relatively unknown beyond Britain, Simons’ works, written at St Omers, were published and performed to acclaim across Catholic Europe. Simons is a reminder of the role of the Jesuit Province in maintaining a cultural, educational and spiritual relationship between recusant Catholicism in Britain and the wider Catholic world.
How many copies of the First Folio are there?
In 1623, it is believed 750 copies of the First Folio were printed, seven years after the death of its author, and was the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collection of plays. 235 copies are known to have survived with 50 books still at home in the UK. Stonyhurst proudly holds one of these copies within its Museum and Historic Libraries, the oldest collection of museum objects in the English-speaking world.
Digitisation of our First Folio
As part of our Shakespeare Folio400 celebrations, we are calling on the Stonyhurst Family to join us in a sponsored marathon reading of Shakespeare's 154 Sonnets. The money raised will be used for the digitisation of our First Folio.
The target for this sponsored event is £4,000. The Stonyhurst Museum & Archives are keen to make our copy of the Folio as widely accessible as possible and this fundraising will help support the digitisation of our copy of the First Folio so it can be accessed by all, no matter where they are in the world.
Your support, no matter the size, will help us achieve this goal. If you can do so, please donate at the JustGiving link below. Thank you!
Charles Waterton Caiman
One of the objects on display at the summer exhibition is a caiman, a South American relative to the alligator. This specimen was captured by the famous early 19th century naturalist, Charles Waterton, a pupil of Stonyhurst in 1796. His extensive collection of animal specimens was donated to Stonyhurst in 1915 by his granddaughter. Within the First Folio, the play of Antony and Cleopatra features an amusing, and dismissive, exchange of comments between Antony and Lepidus which was central to the politics of the play. The crocodile represents Egypt, and the conversation between the two Romans reveals their lack of interest in the animal’s cultural significance in any other terms but their own as they pursue the conquest of Egypt for the Roman Empire.
Stonyhurst and the First Folio
To enable wider access to Shakespeare’s folio, Stonyhurst has invested in a new museum case, funded through donations. The display case will bring the Shakespeare First Folio into the heart of the College during the Folio400 anniversary for pupils. Our pupils will benefit from daily access to one of the most famous books in the world, exploring Shakespeare’s world, absorbing his writings and learning about his life at their own pace and time of their choosing. Academic staff at Stonyhurst College and Stonyhurst St Mary’s Hall Prep School will be inspired to draw up lessons, provoke conversations, and even put on dramatic performances to spark young minds by enriching the curriculum. The pages of the Folio will be turned daily so pupils can read through the plays in short bursts.
Stonyhurst is looking forward to sharing this significant part of history with its pupils and the wider community.
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