The State Library of New South Wales and Shakespeare

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Posted 2023-10-19 by Ashleigh Meiklefollow

One of New South Wales’s most important cultural institutions, the State Library currently has an exhibition for the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio called ‘For All Time: Shakespeare in Print’ , which is running from the 8th of July 2023 to the 25th of February 2024. The library, as well as being home to an impressive collection of books and the Mitchell Reading Room and the Shakespeare Room, also has several galleries of art, and a range of exhibitions, like the Shakespeare exhibition, the new Wadgayawa Nhay Dhadjan Wari exhibition , running from the 7th of October 2023 to the 28th of January 2024, and which was being set up the day I visited the library.

Another exhibition that has just opened is Action! Film and War , which runs from the 7th of October 2023 and ends on the 28th of April 2024. Another exhibition that was running whilst I was there was Rodius , running from the 17th of June 2023 until the 12th of May 2024 – an exhibition of portraits of Indigenous Australians from the nineteenth century.

The library has two sections that are connected by a bridge – the original sandstone building, and a newer one with a café, the shop, and access via stairs or lifts to the upper levels. Entry to the library and exhibitions is free, making access – at least financially to these wonders – something achievable for many. There are many more free, on-site exhibitions and virtual excursions available when you go to the What’s On menu – now I’m wondering just how much I missed!

Visiting the library for the Shakespeare exhibition was my first time tatthe library, and it felt like a very reverent place. It wasn’t somewhere to be loud or raucous, and I wanted to stay there much longer than I did – I feel that it may require several trips to see everything. They have an Open Day coming up on the 29th of October 2023. I hope they have others if people can’t make it to this one.

For All Time: Shakespeare in Print

I first learned about this exhibition about a month before it started, and immediately, I was fascinated and wanted to see it. Having studied Shakespeare at school and university, as well as seeing some of his original papers at the British Library and touring Stratford-upon-Avon, I was keen to see what the State Library had.

The First Folio celebrates its 400th anniversary this year. First published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare died, it is known as the essential collection of 36 comedies, histories and tragedies, as per the exhibition guide from the State Library. This is the purpose fofthis exhibition, celebrating a remarkable milestone, because had these plays not been collected, we may not have these works around today. This exhibition is perfect for students or anyone with an interest in Shakespeare.

They have an impressive collection of posters and programs from Bell Shakespeare, the main theatre company that performs Shakespeare in Australia, as well as the only copy of the First Folio in Australia, one of only 235 left. The exhibition also has copies of the second, third, and fourth folios, miniatures of the plays, and a model of the Globe Theatre.

Across from the folios is a display of Shakespeare’s influences, such as myths, the Bible, and other stories that people might have recognised. It was also interesting to see how Shakespeare has been interpreted over the years. This exhibition mostly had the text versions and plays from Bell Shakespeare. There are many books and movies that have been based on his plays. This exhibition is enriching and brings Shakespeare to life beyond the classroom and shows the cultural influence he has had. When I went, I was lucky enough to be one of only three people in the Amaze Gallery, a smaller room than I imagined but perfect for this exhibition. And I must credit the wonderful guide who was so helpful when we were ihere. It didn’t take long to go around, and the exhibition booklet has everything in it as well – which makes finding out what you want to know whilst there or when you get home helpful.

This is an exhibition that is well worth the visit, and you can check out the rest of the library and galleries wwhileyou are there.

The Shakespeare Room

The Shakespeare Room is a single room in the sandstone building, down a short corridor past the Mitchell Reading Room with a window seat and built-in shelves filled with various editions of Shakespeare plays and books about Shakespeare that you can go in and read and can be used for functions as well. The library website says it is a little-known room in Sydney, and much like the First Folio exhibit, felt calm and as though you had stepped back in time to the Tudor era when Shakespeare was writing. This is a lovely feature of the library, and I want to go back and explore this room and the rest of the library some more.

The State Library of New South Wales is amazing – it’s there for reading, education, and culture, and I think it is worth multiple visits, especially with an ever-changing exhibition program and all its collections – too many to list here, and the website is fantastic, so make sure you check out the website to see what’s on before your visit.

1 Shakespeare Place
NSW 2000


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