Main content

Shakespeare Goes Global

Episode 20 of 20

From the first folio to the 'Robben Island Bible', how Shakespeare became a global phenomenon. Neil MacGregor's object-inspired history of the Bard's world. From May 2012.

Neil MacGregor, former Director of the British Museum, brings to an end his object-based history. During the past four weeks he has taken artefacts from William Shakespeare's time and explored how Elizabethan and Jacobean playgoers made sense of the unstable and rapidly changing world in which they lived.

With old certainties shifting around them, in a time of political and religious unrest and economic expansion, Neil asked what the plays would have meant to the public when they were first performed. Carefully selected objects shed light on the great issues of the day that preoccupied the public and helped shape the works, and revealed much about the concerns and beliefs of Shakespearean England.

In this, the final programme of the series, Neil considers how William Shakespeare made the transition from successful playwright to possibly the greatest dramatist the world has known

Programme 20 SHAKESPEARE GOES GLOBAL - The publication of the First Folio of Shakespeare's collected plays in 1623 began the process of turning an early modern playwright into a global phenomenon. An annotated copy of the Collected Works of Shakespeare reveals the extent to which Shakespeare has inspired and influenced audiences across the globe and through the ages.

This programme was originally broadcast in 2012.

Producer: Paul Kobrak.

Available now

15 minutes

Last on

Sat 12 May 2018 02:15

More episodes


You are at the last episode

See all episodes from Shakespeare's Restless World

The Plays in Print

Date: 1970

Size: H: 215mm, W: 150mm

Made in: London/Glasgow

Made by: Collins (publisher)

Material: Paper


In this series, we've been looking at Shakespeare's first audiences and the expanding, restless world they inhabited. Today we're looking at something very different: how Shakespeare's audience left the Globe and became the whole world.


The publication in 1623 of Mr William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, more commonly referred to as the First Folio, meant that Shakespeare's plays were preserved for future generations. Over the last 400 years his words have travelled across continents and have been translated into hundreds of languages, speaking to all of us about our hopes, our fears and our dreams.


Today's programme looks at some of the many copies of Shakespeare's plays in existence today, and we speak to some of the people whose lives his words have touched.


Private collection


British Museum Blog: Not of an age, but for all time by Barrie Cook, radio series curator, British Museum



  • Shakespeare's completed works, often called the First Folio, was the first exclusive play collection in book form
  • The First Folio, published in 1623, is 908 pages long. It's 14 inches by 9 inches, and 3 inches thick
  • There were three further amended versions - the Second Folio in 1632, the Third Folio in 1664 and the Fourth Folio in 1685
  • There are 232 known copies of the First Folio in existence
  • A First Folio sold in 2002 for 7 million dollars

More from Radio 4: William Shakespeare

More from Radio 4: William Shakespeare

Matthew Parris presents the biographical series. Poetry curator Daisy Goodwin nominates the Bard, William Shakespeare. She is joined by Dominic Dromgoole of the Globe Theatre.


Listen to the programme

More from Radio 4: The Ensemble

More from Radio 4: The Ensemble

James Naughtie goes backstage as the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrates its 50th birthday. James follows Michael Boyd and company prepare the new production, Macbeth.


Listen to the programme

More from Radio 4: Shakespeare's Work

More from Radio 4: Shakespeare's Work

Melvyn Bragg discusses whether the work of William Shakespeare is indeed 'not of an age but for all time' or merely increasingly irrelevant museum pieces embalmed in out of reach language.


Listen to the programme

More from Radio 4: Shakespeare's Life

More from Radio 4: Shakespeare's Life

Melvyn Bragg discusses what we know about the life of William Shakespeare, a tantalising conundrum that has exercised minds since the day the playwright died.


Listen to the programme

More from Radio 4: Nelson Mandela Release

More from Radio 4: Nelson Mandela Release

Sue MacGregor reunites the core negotiators and key campaigners involved in the secret talks which ultimately led to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990.


Listen to the programme


  • Fri 11 May 2012 13:45
  • Fri 11 May 2012 19:45
  • Fri 2 Nov 2012 14:15
  • Fri 3 Apr 2015 14:15
  • Sat 4 Apr 2015 02:15
  • Fri 5 Aug 2016 13:45
  • Fri 11 May 2018 14:15
  • Sat 12 May 2018 02:15