William Shakespeare’s Quadricentennial | The Mobile Digital Shakespeare Library

Shakespeare’s actual birthday is technically unknown, but we know the date of his death, which was on the 23rd of April, today, exactly 400 years ago. As such, the literary world, and the world at large, celebrates The Bard’s anniversary on this day. As such, you should do the obvious thing: read one or two of Shakespeare’s plays. I recommend any of the ones you haven’t read. Maybe Pericles, Prince of Tyre or Cymbeline. Those are pretty good and not celebrated enough. If you can track down the BBC’s productions of the York tetralogy (that would be Henry VI parts 1-3, and Richard III), marathon through those. It’ll take the better part of a day, but it’ll be worth it. 

And, if you live in London, you now have instant digital access to all of Shakespeare’s priceless first editions on your smartphones. 

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The London Library, as part of The Bard’s quadricentennial celebration (and how often will we be comfortably and organically allowed to use the word “quadricentennial?”), has set up a modular digital library which is touring England in the form of ersatz bookshelves, The tour will start in Trafalger Square, and make its way around the more rural areas of the country that don’t often get to see the Quarto edition of Shakespeare’s plays. The Quartos, for Shakespeare laymen, are more or less the “first editions” of Shakespeare’s plays, and contain all the earliest known “big hits” as it were. The Quartos began publication in 1594, when Shakespeare was still alive (The definitive first complete volume of Shakespeare’s work is, incidentally, the First Folio, which was published in 1623. That’s the one you can still get, in one form or another, from your local bookshops).

The mobile Digital Library, which features 14 of Shakespeare’s plays, including Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet, will set up fake bookshelves in public places, with books painted on them. Each fake book will be branded with a QR code, which you can scan with your smartphone and download any of the books for free. The tour will then continue overseas, planned to hit up the Czech Republic, Qatar, and Albania.

Public Domain

Visiting the digital library will also give you a chance to win a sheet of the “digital wallpaper,” allowing you access to any of the QR codes in your home. If you don’t yet own a canon of great literature, this would be a dandy way to kickstart a library, but also save a lot of space and money. 

So why the international stops? As it turns out, a recent study, as referenced in The Telegraph, non-British people tend to have a deeper appreciation for Shakespeare than British people. Indeed, 40% of British people surveyed think that Shakespeare has no more relevance to the modern day. Maybe it’s because I’m an ignorant American, but I would be in the 60% opposed. Shakespeare invented pretty much everything in language, modern drama, and human characters. Some have even said that he invented the human being as we know it in the modern world. 

No matter how you feel about Shakespeare, you should read his work as much as possible. Download it. You’ll be glad you did. 

Top Image: Public Domain

Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.