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Royal love of Shakespeare revealed in a new exhibition to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Britain's greatest playwright

Release date: Friday, 12 February 2016

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A copy of Shakespeare's Second Folio annotated by Charles I, a drawing of Romeo and Juliet by Queen Victoria and a colourfully bound copy of the Merry Wives of Windsor presented to Queen Mary in 1917 are among the items going on display at Windsor Castle to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare in 1616.

Shakespeare in the Royal Library will show how generations of monarchs since Elizabeth I have enjoyed the work of Britain's greatest playwright.  To celebrate Shakespeare's longstanding connection with Windsor and the royal court, books, maps and prints acquired by monarchs and works of art by members of the royal family inspired by Shakespeare's plays will be brought together for the first time.

One of the highlights of the display is a copy of Shakespeare's Second Folio annotated by both Charles I and George III.  Charles I probably read the Folio, published in 1632, while he was imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle before his execution in 1649.  The King inscribed the words 'Dum Spiro Spero' (While I Breathe, I Hope) on the flyleaf of the book and wrote the names of some of the characters from Shakespeare's comedies on the contents page. 

A drawing of Romeo and Juliet by Princess Victoria, the future Queen Victoria, when aged around 15, will go on display for the first time.  Made in pencil, pen and ink, it shows a scene from Act III Scene V of Shakespeare's popular play, with the two lovers embracing as Romeo climbs hastily out of a window.  Also on display for the first time is a watercolour by Princess Alice, Queen Victoria's second daughter.  Depicting a scene from Shakespeare's Hamlet, the colourful watercolour was made as a birthday gift to her mother on 24 May 1859. Queen Victoria and her family enjoyed a number of performances of Shakespeare's plays at Windsor Castle.  One such occasion is recorded in a watercolour by Louis Haghe showing the Queen, Prince Albert and their children watching a performance of Macbeth in the Rubens Room (now the King's Drawing Room) on 4 February 1853.

Royal interest in Shakespeare has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. Queen Mary was presented with a colourfully bound copy of the Merry Wives of Windsor in 1917 which includes an embroidered image of Windsor Castle on the front cover.  Today, The Prince of Wales is the President of the Royal Shakespeare Company and in 1995 published a selection of his favourite works by the playwright.

Exhibition curator Elizabeth Clark of Royal Collection Trust said, 'This exhibition commemorating 400 years since Shakespeare's death is a wonderful opportunity to show through many of the Royal Library's greatest treasures the royal family's lasting interest in Shakespeare and his plays.'

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