‘Wherefore art thou, @RomeoRomeo?’

For the first time, Shakespeare’s First Folio will be on showcase at the National Library till 23 April 2017. Photo: National Library Board
The famous bard’s first printed anthology of plays is on display in the exhibition Shakespeare in Print: The First Folio. Photo: National Library Board
For the first time in Singapore, visitors can get up close and personal with Shakespeare's First Folio on loan from the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford. Photo: National Library Board
What might Romeo have tweeted? Find out at the #Shakespeare exhibition, on at three libraries. Photo: Courtesy of the National Library Board
Exhibition showcases rare anthology of Shakespeare’s plays — and turns some into tweets
Published: 4:00 AM, March 15, 2017

SINGAPORE — What might Romeo have tweeted if he had access to social media?

The National Library is presenting just that in a round of exhibitions now on at Jurong Regional Library, Marine Parade Public Library and library@esplanade. The three venues are playing host to a quirky exhibition called #Shakespeare, a display that turns stories from William Shakespeare’s plays into tweets by key characters from Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet.

“Heard that brute @tybalt picked a fight with ma bro @benvolio again. Ugh. Capulets. #montague4life,” is one example from @RomeoRomeo, on show at the Esplanade.

The tweets are written by National Library Board staff. “This was done through condensing the main narrative of Shakespeare’s plays into tweets or rewording the dialogues into contemporary language,” said Georgina Wong, assistant curator for exhibitions and South-east Asian content and services at the National Library.

The National Library’s hope is “for the public to grow an understanding of Shakespeare’s works beyond the Elizabethan stage, as his works have been translated and adapted for not only the Asian stage, but also in literature, film and art all over the world”, she added.

A rare anthology of Shakespeare’s plays is also on show at the National Library Building. On loan from the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, the volume, The First Folio, was printed in 1623, and is the first printed anthology of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays.

It includes works such as All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth and The Tempest, but also preserves 18 of the Bard’s works that had never been published before 1623.

“The display of the First Folio presents a rare opportunity for us to see for ourselves the first print run of the collection of Shakespeare’s plays,” said Wong.

Bodleian Libraries is renowned for its collection of more than 12 million items, including rare books and manuscripts. It has loaned objects to institutions around the world, but this is only their second showing in Asia. They last exhibited the famous Ming Dynasty Selden Map of China in Hong Kong in 2014.

British librarian and author Richard Ovenden, who serves as the Bodleian Librarian, said that the First Folio never fails to generate positive responses when exhibited around the world.

“Visitors are often surprised to see Shakespeare’s original work ‘in the flesh’ and usually remark on the sheer size and weight of the object. Visitors also remark on the wear on the pages and the notes in the margin which show how the First Folio was very much a ‘living document’,” he said.

While one cannot touch the document, a full digital version of the 950 pages of the Folio can be browsed through at the National Library.

“We also invest in digitising our collections and making them available online so anyone can have access to and enjoy our collections,” added Ovenden.

Wong said that, through the Folio, visitors would also “appreciate the significance of documenting and preserving literary works”, adding that the National Library engages with homegrown writers to collect their works and preserve them for posterity.

Shakespeare in Print: The First Folio is on until April 23 at the Level 10 Gallery of the National Library Building. View #Shakespeare at Jurong Regional Library, Marine Parade Public Library and library@esplanade. Admission is free.