Shakespeare’s portrait sent to edge of space to mark 400 years of ‘First Folio’

LONDON (Reuters) – A portrait of William Shakespeare and a copy of a speech from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” were sent to the edge of space as part of a short film series marking 400 years since the first volume of the playwright’s works was published.

Shakespeare’s First Folio was compiled by his friends and published on Nov. 8, 1623, seven years after his death. Some 750 copies are believed to have been printed, containing 36 of the 37 plays Shakespeare wrote, arranged for the first time as comedies, tragedies and histories.

To mark the anniversary, filmmaker Jack Jewers made six short films addressing contemporary themes including space exploration, the impact of the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine using six of Shakespeare’s speeches and poems.

In “Lovers and Madmen”, narrated by actor Tom Baker, he attached the portrait and text to a weather balloon, sending them to the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

“A tiny copy of the speech we used, which is ‘The Lovers and Madmen’ speech from ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, (was) inserted into the portrait,” Jewers told Reuters.

“I like the idea of Shakespeare’s words floating in space along with his image.”

“The Stranger’s Case” features a speech Shakespeare contributed to an unperformed play alongside footage of refugees at sea.

“What really struck me when I was kind of doing a deep dive into the bits of his work that I wanted to focus on was how the issues he wrote about still felt so contemporary,” Jewers said.

“‘The Stranger’s Case’ (speech) … feels so modern that whenever anybody hears this, they go ‘well, this could be today’.”

The First Folio is considered one of the most important books in English literature. Without it, 18 plays, including “Macbeth”, would have been lost.

“(Shakespeare’s) fellow actors, theatre company owners, decided to pull that material together and produce the kind of testament to their former colleague, to the greatest playwright that they had certainly ever worked with,” said Will Tosh, head of research at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London.

“And as it turned out, the greatest playwright in the English language.”

(Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Nick Macfie)