Book of the Bard: Exploring Shakespeare’s First Folio

Distinguished Shakespeare scholar Professor Emma Smith is coming to Leeds to talk about the very first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays – probably the most influential secular book ever printed. Without it, half of the Bard’s plays would have been lost.

The event has been organised by Headingley LitFest, which has marked it as a ‘special event’, because the sixteen year-old community organisation nowadays concentrates its attention mainly on poetry sessions in local primary schools, using the services of poets like Malika Booker and James Nash. Details of these can be found on the LitFest blog at

Learn about the tumultuous origins of what has become one of the most valuable printed books in the world and hear about what happened to copies of the First Folio after it appeared in 1623. Some show how the plays were received in different theatres; others contain doodles and even children’s drawings. Its changing value can be traced as books were rebound and sold for higher prices, because it rapidly became an expensive trophy for the few who could afford to pay for it. 

Copies formerly owned by aristocrats were bought up by factory owners, including the Gott family from Leeds. English libraries were broken up and sold to wealthy Americans – and in some cases, as with the copy in the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds, came back again! 

Title page of First Folio

Emma Smith was born and brought up in Leeds. She is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford, and the 2023 Sam Wanamaker Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe. Her talks and lectures tend to be disarmingly frank and irreverent, with references to popular culture, from The Simpsons to Friends.

Emma is dedicated to making Shakespeare interesting and accessible to all: in her recent book This is Shakespeare she writes that it is aimed at “readers, theatregoers, students and all those who feel that they missed out on Shakespeare at some earlier point and are willing to have another pop at these extraordinary works”. 

Her other books include The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio and Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, both with second editions published for the anniversary in 2023. Her This Is Shakespeare was a Sunday Times bestseller. She has broadcast extensively about Shakespeare on BBC radio and television.

2pm Saturday 2 March HEART Centre, Bennett Road, LS6 3AW

Tickets £8 on the door (card or cash) or in advance from HEART. 

Main image: Emma Smith.

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