As part of a Shakespeare exhibition to mark the 400th anniversary of the English playwright’s death, a collection of the plays read by King Charles I as he awaited his execution is on display at Windsor Castle from this month.
The King’s Second Folio, which was published in 1632, is inscribed with the Latin phrase “Dum Spiro Spero”, which means “while I breathe, I hope”. The contents page bears the names of some characters from Shakespeare’s comedies, including Rosalind, Benedick and Beatrice, Pyramus and Thisbe, which were likely written by the King while in captivity on the Isle of Wight, where he was imprisoned in 1648.
During the English Civil War, King Charles I was captured and accused of treason against England, for using his power for his own advantage rather than for the good of the country. He was executed by beheading on 30 January 1649. Following his death, the monarchy was abolished in England, only to be restored 11 years later when his son, King Charles II came to the throne.
The copy of the plays was later inherited by King Charles’ personal attendant Sir Thomas Herbert, who was on the scaffold with his master at the time of his death. The plays were reacquired for the Royal Library in 1800 by King George III.
Also on display at the exhibition are a brightly bound copy of the Merry Wives of Windsor, which features an embroidered image of Windsor Castle on its front cover, and was presented to Queen Mary in 1917, a pencil and ink drawing of Romeo and Juliet made by the future Queen Victoria when she was 15 years old, and a watercolour painting by Queen Victoria’s second daughter, Princess Alice, depicting a scene from Hamlet.
Queen Victoria and her family loved to watch private performances of Shakespeare’s plays, and in an entry in her journal in 1853, The Queen described a performance of Macbeth, calling it “most interesting, thrilling and heartrending”.
Shakespeare in the Royal Library opens at Windsor Castle today. Through books and artwork collected over the years, the exhibition showcases the royal fascination with the Bard, ranging from Queen Elizabeth I onwards, and will run until 1 January, 2o17.