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Leisure Learning

Living Shakespeare: First Folio Series 2023

The First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays is open at the first page of Othello. The text is printed in small type in two columns, but the title spans the page, with a decorative bar above it. The volume is bound in brown leather.

How many times should King Lear say "O" before taking his final breath? Four times or none at all – that is the question. According to the text that was published during Shakespeare's lifetime, Lear's final utterance was a series of four "O's", but when the text was published in 1623 seven years after Shakespeare died his final words changed to "Look there, look there". Is one ending more dramatic than the other, and if so, then why?

This was just one of the questions people enjoyed getting their teeth stuck into on our recent Living Shakespeare course held at Hall’s Croft. With this year’s 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio there has never been a better time to find out more about some of the weird and wonderful stories behind this important book’s publication. People travelled from Germany and America as well as much closer to home to be part of the conversation for our most recent gathering.

As well as hearing about the Folio itself and some of the people associated with its creation, we have also been exploring some of the plays that would have disappeared had it not been for the publication of that book. Most recently our conversations have centred upon Julius Caesar and it has been fascinating to hear how this Elizabethan play can speak to our own times and readily appeal to many as ‘a play for today’. Our audience also had the pleasure of listening to veteran actor (and star of A Touch of Frost) Bruce Alexander talk about his experience of working with Shakespeare words in the theatre. He emphasised Shakespeare’s masterful use of rhetoric, and marvelled at the power of Shakespeare’s words to shock, surprise, and silence audiences today.

If you would like to join in our lively conversations and share your thoughts about ‘all things Shakespeare’ join us for one of our Living Shakespeare: First Folio series courses. We will be taking As You Like It (2nd – 4th August) and Macbeth/The Merchant of Venice (26th – 28th September) as our focus plays later this year.

To find out more visit our Living Shakespeare page.