A Rare Glimpse of Shakespeare’s First Folio at The Hunterian Art Gallery

First Folio

22 and 23 April, 2023

The 400th birthday of The First Folio

2023 marks the 400th birthday of The First Folio, the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays. 23 April is celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday and this year you can celebrate by seeing Shakespeare’s First Folio for yourself at the Hunterian Art Gallery. The University of Glasgow’s very special copy of the book will make a rare public appearance for one weekend only on 22 and 23 April.

Only 18 of Shakespeare’s plays appeared in print during his lifetime, and some of these were corrupt or pirated editions. The First Folio contains 36 plays and 18 were published here for the first time, saving works such as The Tempest and Macbeth from probable extinction.

About 750 copies of the 1623 First Folio were printed. 235 are known to have survived with 50 copies still in the UK, 149 in USA and 36 in other corners of the world (nine of which are listed as ‘missing’). 

As part of the Folio400 celebration, owners worldwide are being encouraged to display their copies on or around 23 April. Throughout 2023 there will be three First Folios on display across Scotland. They will be on view to the public at the University of Glasgow, the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh and Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute. These three different volumes, in three very different collections, have three different stories to tell. 

The University of Glasgow’s First Folio, held in the Library’s Archives & Special Collections, recently underwent conservation work. It is a complex ‘made up’ volume, formed from combining two or three different imperfect copies to create a whole. In common with most other surviving First Folios, the book shows considerable signs of wear and use, and many of its pages are stained and dirt-engrained. This evidence of heavy use by previous owners can offer us historical insights into reading habits, and this copy is particularly important for its early annotations that were made by a reader who had evidently seen Shakespeare’s plays being acted contemporaneously.

starke naught credit University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections

The University of Glasgow First Folio will be on display at the Hunterian Art Gallery from 10am until 5pm on 22 and 23 April. Julie Gardham, Senior Librarian in Archives and & Special Collections, will also give a public talk on ‘Folio Day’, 23 April at 1pm, discussing this icon of literature and the peculiar significance of the University of Glasgow’s copy. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to decide for yourself if the First Folio is ‘very good’ or ‘starke naught’!

Shakespeare first folio

Shakespeare First Folio image by Martin Shields

Lunchtime Talks

‘First Folio at the University of Glasgow’ on Friday 21 April at 1pm with Senior Librarian Julie Gardham and Professor of English Literature Adrian Streete

‘Shakespeare’s First Folios Across Scotland’ on Friday 28 April at 1pm, with The Mount Stuart Trust’s Librarian, Elizabeth Ingham and The National Library of Scotland’s Head of Rare Books, Maps and Music, Helen Vincent

Professor Adrian Streete, Head of English Literature at the University of Glasgow, said: 

“The story of how Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies became the ‘First Folio’ is a long and complicated one, bound up with shifting ideas of literary prestige, the theatre, and national identity. But the First Folio remains a monument to the enduring power of literature to help us make sense of ourselves and others, and to imagine new and better worlds.”  


The Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, 82 Hillhead St, Glasgow G12 8QQ

Open 10 a.m.  5 p.m.

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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