The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which saved 18 plays from being lost in “Making Shakespeare: The First Folio” on GREAT PERFORMANCES – Nov. 17 at 9 pm

Posted on:

< < Back to

Great Performances Traces the History of Shakespeare’s First Folio and Spotlights the Impact of Shakespeare on Today’s World in New Documentary Premiering Friday, November 17 at 9:00 pm on PBS

“Making Shakespeare: The First Folio”

Narrated by Emmy, Tony and Grammy Award winner Audra McDonald featuring Emmy Award winner Brian Cox and an appearance by King Charles III


With only half of Shakespeare’s plays published before his death, often in inaccurate and incomplete versions, the First Folio is the first published collection of William Shakespeare’s full plays. Produced seven years after Shakespeare’s death, it preserved the other half of the Bard’s works including beloved plays like “The Tempest,” “Julius Caesar,” “Twelfth Night” and “Macbeth” which would have otherwise been lost to time. As Professor Jonathan Bate explains: “The First Folio is the most important secular book in the history of the Western World.” The new documentary Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio premieres Friday, November 17 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS, and the PBS App, during the 400th anniversary year of the printing of the First Folio.

Color Portrait of William Shakespeare.
Portrait of William Shakespeare.

Narrated by Emmy, Tony, and Grammy Award winner Audra McDonald and from the directors and producers of The WNET Group’s Shakespeare Uncovered, Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio tells the story of Shakespeare’s fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell’s enterprise to create the book including the struggle to secure the finance, their difficulty tracing the scripts, the dilemma of choosing between versions of the published plays available, and the challenge of printing the 900-page volume with all the complexities and inadequacies of 17th century printing techniques.

Only approximately 750 First Folios have been printed, and these copies have made their way around the world. Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio showcases several folios with notable owners including one examined by King Charles III that was owned and cherished by King Charles I right up to his execution that includes the markings he made inside. The film also uncovers the mystery owner of a folio whose owner had remained anonymous for four centuries and was revealed to be the

Archival manuscripts and letters from a Shakespeare collection
Archival manuscripts and letters

celebrated English poet John Milton. Emmy Award-winning actor Brian Cox and wife and fellow actor Nicole Ansari also discover more about great American Shakespeare lover and folio collector who amassed a third of all known folios, Henry Folger, and dive deeper into his obsession to possess one particular copy. Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio also follows the trail of the infamous stolen Durham folio as it made its way across the Atlantic and was finally identified and recovered 20 years later.

Featuring numerous museums and universities, Great Performances – Making Shakespeare: The First Folio spotlights the work of the Public Theater in New York City, including their bilingual musical version of “Comedy of Errors” that tours New York’s diverse neighborhoods. The film additionally spotlights 11-year-old students from the Bronx who make their own sense of the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet,” and also goes behind the scenes of Kenny Leon’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Hamlet,” set in Atlanta, Georgia that uncovers a Shakespeare who challenges racism and violence in America today.