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Shakespeare at the Library

Discover the fascinating tale behind Shakespeare's First Folio and other stories featuring Shakespeare in the Library.

The Library has had a long association with Shakespeare and is the unofficial home of Shakespeare in Australia. When the Free Public Library of Sydney was formed in 1869 it contained numerous works by and about Shakespeare, many originating from the Australian Subscription Library created in 1826. In 1885 the first edition of the collected plays of Shakespeare, published in 1623, was donated to the Library and from that date our relationship with Shakespeare was official. Our copy of the First Folio is the only one held in Australia.

Grammar School and Tower of the Guild Chapel, Stratford On Avon, Ernest Edwards, 1863, from albumen print.
Grammar School and Tower of the Guild Chapel, Stratford On Avon, Ernest Edwards, 1863, from albumen print.
In the early twentieth century our relationship with Shakespeare expanded from the printed page to encompass the building itself.

In 1912 members of the Shakespeare Society of NSW met to plan the celebrations for the April 1916 tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. As part of the celebrations they held a ball in the Sydney Town Hall and raised £500 to establish, among other things, a memorial library.

In 1925 correspondence between the Premier's office and the Principal Librarian, William Ifould stated that a sum of £1,400 was raised by public subscription for the purpose of a Shakespeare Tercentenary Memorial and that the public committee of the fund had decided to hand over this amount to the Trustees of the Public Library for the provision of an endowment for building a special Shakespeare Memorial Library.

It was not until the early 1940s that our Shakespeare Library was constructed as part of the Library’s extensive building program. It was officially opened in 1943.

The Library continues to acquire material related to Shakespeare, his publications, and the study and celebration of his literary legacy. In recent years the most requested item in our ebook collection has been the Tempest written by Shakespeare in 1610 and downloaded by over 200 readers in 2017.