University of London announces its first major public exhibition as part of Shakespeare400

Thursday 17 March 2016

Shakespeare: Metamorphosis

  • Collections from Senate House Library tracing the 400-year development of Shakespearian text, from Shakespeare’s early influences through to the digital age
  • Unique opportunity to see the first folio from 1623
  • Bespoke website featuring digitised documents, interpretation from the exhibition curators, and a film featuring actor Paterson Joseph
  • Series of free public events

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the University of London will run its first major exhibition, Shakespeare: Metamorphosis, in Senate House Library from 14 April to 17 September.

Over the last four centuries Shakespearean text and scholarship, as well as perceptions of the man himself, have undergone continuous reinvention. Inspired by the famous ‘seven ages of man’ speech from As You Like It, Shakespeare: Metamorphosis traces and explains this 400-year transformation by highlighting and displaying over 30 rare texts from seven significant ages of development:

  • The first age explores contemporary sources of inspiration for Shakespeare
  • The second ages focuses on the production of the four folios from 1623 to 1685
  • The third ages reveals the 18th-century love affair with the Bard and the emergence of serious scholarship
  • The fourth age traces disputes over authorship and identity throughout the 19th century, as well as the publication of the first editions
  • The fifth age highlights modern scholarship, with the emergence by the early of one authoritative text and corpus of work by the early 20th century
  • The sixth age celebrates the popularisation of Shakespeare around the world, reflected in the tercentenary commemorations of 1916
  • The seventh age embraces the shift to digital texts with Senate House Library producing a new bespoke website to accompany the exhibition.

Curator-led access to Shakespeare quartos and folios

The exhibition is free to enter on a library day pass and visitors are encouraged to join the library at a discounted rate during the exhibition period.

Visitors will also be able to pre-book a 30-minute session with exhibition curators who will lead them through a series of texts focussing on the metamorphosis of the play Othello. These sessions include access to the Shakespeare quartos and folios, as well as support material from the entire 400 years. There are only 54 of these curator-led events throughout the exhibition period, and each event will be limited to 15 people. Tickets cost £10.00 (£8.00 concession) and can be booked using this link

All of the texts on display in the exhibition, as well as many more, will be digitised and displayed on the new website. Online exhibits will be supported by bespoke films made by the exhibition curators explaining the context and content of the documents. The exhibition will be introduced by a film featuring actor Paterson Joseph. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to access these films in the library through their mobile devices.

Free public events and evening with the Fox dynasty of actors

Throughout the exhibition period there will be a series of free public events, bringing further life to the documents on display.  Highlights include an evening with the Fox dynasty of actors, a series of performances on 23 April, and Michael Slater’s look at Shakespeare’s influence on Dickens. 

Senate House Librarian Jackie Marfleet said: ‘William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616.  Four hundred years later, he is revered around the world as a literary superstar. His canon of work was first brought together in 1623 with the publication of the ‘first folio’, we are lucky to have this and in fact all four folios, in Senate House Library. We are thrilled that we are going to be able to share these, along with many other exciting and rare documents, as part of Shakespeare: Metamorphosis, our first major exhibition. Through the exhibition and its accompanying website visitors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to access our excellent Shakespeare collection and to gain curatorial insight.’

Shakespeare: Metamorphosis runs from 9am–5.30pm, Monday – Friday and 10am–5pm on Saturdays, from 14 April to 17 September.  Senate House Library, the building which inspired George Orwell’s 1984, is located at Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU. Booking and exhibition information is availablel from Information about the library on:

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Notes for editors:

1. For further information please contact Emily Stidston, Engagement Support Officer, Senate House Library, University of London at / 020 7862 8417. Eight images are available for publication including a portrait of Shakespeare from the frontispiece of the first folio; Holinshed’s Chronicles; Rowe’s Works of Mr William Shakespeare; and Blackie’s satchel edition of As You Like It.

2.  Senate House Library (SHL) is one of the world’s most significant collections in the arts, humanities and social sciences. With its partner libraries of the Institutes of the School of Advanced Study, it provides services to readers from the School of Advanced Study, the Colleges of the federal University of London, and from London, regional, national and international research communities. All are welcome to join the Library through a membership programme for the University of London, other UK universities, overseas universities, or as a member of the public. The Library and its collections have been continuously developed since the 1870s. It now holds over two million printed books, thousands of printed and electronic journals, and the highest proportion of historic collections of any university library in the United Kingdom.  Modern materials in printed and electronic formats are collected at research level and in Western European languages to support cross- and inter-disciplinary research in subjects such as English Studies, history, philosophy, music, Romance and Germanic languages, palaeography, art history and area studies. Senate House Library also holds the University of London Archive – the historic record of the University – and is responsible for the University of London Artworks Collection. Acquisitions are also made to the Historic Collections, and notable collections include the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature, the Sterling Library and the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature.

3. The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University is recognised globally as a world leader in Higher Education. Its members are 18 self-governing institutions of outstanding reputation, together with a number of prestigious central academic bodies and activities. Learn more about the University of London at

4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2014-15, SAS: welcomed 805 research fellows and associates; held 2,073 research dissemination events; received 23.1 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 213,456 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

5. Shakespeare400
Shakespeare400 is a consortium of leading cultural, creative and educational organisations, coordinated by King’s College London, which will mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016. Through a connected series of public performances, programmes, exhibitions and creative activities in the capital and beyond, partners will celebrate the legacy of Shakespeare during the quatercentenary year. Learn more about Shakespeare400 at