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Shakespeare First Folio loaned to ‘Wolsey’s Ipswich’ exhibition

Trinity’s 1623 copy of Shakespeare’s collected plays – known as the First Folio – features in a new exhibition marking the 550th anniversary of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s birth in Ipswich.

Wolsey’s Ipswich, at The Hold on Ipswich waterfront, charts the journey of the son of a butcher from the Suffolk coastal town to becoming one of the most powerful men in Tudor England.

Born in Ipswich in 1473, Wolsey was made a Cardinal by Pope Leo X and reached his zenith as Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII in 1515.

A portrait of Cardinal Wolsey. Image: Trinity College Cambridge.

Through items from Suffolk Archives’ collections and loaned artefacts, including Trinity’s First Folio and the Cardinal’s hat from Christ Church, Oxford, the exhibition considers how Wolsey has been portrayed through history, including in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, which depicts the Cardinal’s rise and fall.

Wolsey fell out of favour after Henry VIII’s split with the Roman Catholic Church over his attempts to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn.

The First Folio was published seven years after Shakespeare’s death and was the first collected edition of his plays. Collated and edited by two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, it contains 36 plays. Of these, 18 – including some of the best-known such as Macbeth and The Tempest – had never been printed before and might otherwise have been lost.

Its description as a ‘folio’ reflects its physical form: a folio book was made by folding printed sheets of paper in half resulting in a booklet of four pages.

Trinity Sub-Librarian Steven Archer said: ‘This was the first time any play had been printed in such a large and luxurious format and was a reflection of the standing in which the plays and the author himself were held.’

The First Folio. Image: Trinity College Cambridge.

Trinity College has two of the four copies of the First Folio in Cambridge, as well as copies of the later print runs known as the Second, Third and Fourth Folios. Academics regularly use these volumes, and the collection of other works by Shakespeare, in teaching and for research.

Trinity Junior Research Fellow, Dr Jitka Štollová, has studied the importance of the Folio’s King Lear on former Czech President and writer Václav Havel’s last play. She will present her research at the British Shakespeare Association Conference at the University of Liverpool on 25 July.

Dr Štollová said:

It is inspirational to be working at Trinity which has such an important collection of Shakespeare’s works. As Václav Havel’s last play demonstrates, Shakespeare’s Folio continues to influence modern writers even four centuries after its printing.

Mr Archer said:

Trinity is very pleased to lend a First Folio to the exhibition about Ipswich’s famous son – particularly given the connection between Wolsey and Henry VIII, the founder of the College. We are also delighted to share the Folio in 2023, 400 years after the first collected works of Shakespeare were printed and to be part of an anniversary which is being celebrated worldwide.

The First Folio open at ‘The Live of King Henry VIII the Eighth’. Image: Trinity College Cambridge.

Wolsey’s Ipswich runs from Friday 14 July until Sunday 29 October 2023 at The Hold on Ipswich Waterfront. Entry is free and open to all ages. More information is available

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