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The Secret Life of Books: The First Folio

Updated Monday, 11th August 2014

Actor Simon Russell Beale explores the words from one of the greatest playwrights of all time, William Shakespeare. 

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Simon Russell Beale Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC Simon Russell Beale

About the episode

Presented by Simon Russell Beale

To be or not to be … a man more sinned against than sinning … I have loved not wisely but too well … the fault is in our stars. Dear Brutus …

All words written by a man to whom Simon Russell Beale has devoted much of his life as an actor; the author of some of the most famous lines in British literature … William Shakespeare.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see those lines in their original written form, fresh from his pen?

Yes it would. But we can’t - because in Shakespeare’s day, original manuscripts weren’t considered worth keeping. They were quite simply thrown away. Indeed, it is only thanks to a book that was published in 1623, the so-called First Folio, that we have many of his plays in any form at all.

What can we learn from it? Actually – we can learn a great deal. We can learn that Shakespeare frequently collaborated with other writers – that some of those famous words weren’t always his.

We can learn how plays were made as much as they were written – and in fact, Simon Russell Beale thinks we can read between the lines and between the plays – and find a shadow of the man himself …

Without the First Folio – if for some reason it had never been printed – Shakespeare would be half the playwright that he is; we would have lost those 18 plays entirely, and among them are some of his very greatest ... The Tempest, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Measure For Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, All’s Well that Ends Well, The Winter’s Tale, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Macbeth.

Lost for words? Without this wonderful book, at certain moments in Beale’s life he definitely would have been...

This episode was first broadcast on Tuesday 9th September 2014 on BBC Four.




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