Celebrating Shakespeare with the RSC

Published 19 July 2023

The King and Queen have hosted a reception to celebrate the contribution of William Shakespeare to the life and culture of the UK in the year marking the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio.

RCS reception at Windsor

Their Majesties, accompanied by The Duchess of Edinburgh and The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester viewed a short performance given by actors and musicians from the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Dame Harriet Walter, Sir Simon Russell Beale, and Ray Fearon. The performances were from plays that would have been lost including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Antony & Cleopatra, and The Tempest were it not for the preservation of the first folios.  

Shakespeare performance at Windsor

The First Folio, published in 1623, contains 36 plays, 18 of which would have been lost without its publication. A copy of the First Folio is held in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle and was on display during the reception.

Their Majesties view the folio


After the performance, Their Majesties and Their Royal Highnesses met actors and musicians in the Grand Reception Room, as well as other members of the Royal Shakespeare Company including new Co-Artistic Directors Daniel Evans and Tamara Harvey before joining a larger reception in St George’s Hall.

Members of the Royal family view the folio

The Royal Shakespeare Company is a theatre and learning charity that creates world class theatre, made in Stratford-upon-Avon and shared around the world, performing plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, as well as commissioning an exceptionally wide range of original work from contemporary writers. The RSC’s purpose is to ensure that Shakespeare is for everyone, by unlocking the power of his plays through live performance, and learning and education work throughout the UK and across the world.

The King with Dame Judi Dench

The RSC has one of the UK’s largest arts learning programmes, working with over 1,000 schools each year to broaden access to high quality arts learning and transform experiences of Shakespeare in schools, supporting the development of reading and writing skills, accelerating language acquisition and development, raising aspirations and improving student attitudes to school and education.

The first folio

The First Folio

The book often referred to as The First Folio was published in 1623, seven years after the death of William Shakespeare. The collection is 36 of Shakespeare's works, and was published by Shakespeare’s friends, John Heminges and Henry Condell.

This was the first printed folio to exclusively contain plays, including the first good texts of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V, and Henry VI Part 2 and Henry VI Part 3.

Without the First Folio, half of Shakespeare's plays would have been lost to us today, as they had not previously been published in quarto form. These plays are as follows:

  • All's Well That Ends Well
  • Antony and Cleopatra
  • As You Like It
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • Coriolanus
  • Cymbeline
  • Henry VI, Part One
  • Henry VIII (All is True)
  • Julius Caesar
  • King John
  • Macbeth
  • Measure for Measure
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • The Tempest
  • Timon of Athens
  • Twelfth Night
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • The Winter's Tale

The plays were arranged into Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Between 750 and 1,000 copies were printed and about 230 of these have survived. Corrections were often made during the printing process and no pages were discarded, so each copy is unique. This has been known to come in useful for identifying and recovering a stolen copy of the First Folio. They each contain their own mistakes, and no copy contains all pages in their final state. In 1623 they were sold for £1 if bound (enough to buy 44 loaves of bread), and 15 shillings if unbound.

The King and Shakespeare

As Prince of Wales, His Majesty became President of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1991 and is known to take a keen interest in Shakespeare, having performed in plays whilst at university.

Prince Charles performs Shakespeare

In April 2016, The then Prince of Wales visited Stratford to mark 400 years since William Shakespeare’s death. His Royal Highness joined renowned theatre actors on stage at Stratford and performed Hamlet as part of Shakespeare Live! from the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, featuring performances that celebrated Shakespeare's legacy.

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