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To be or not to be? The Bard online campaign

Actor, Stephen Fry is backing the Bodleian's campaign Photo: areth Fuller/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Leading stars of stage and screen, including Stephen Fry and Vanessa Redgrave, have added their backing to a new campaign by Oxford University's Bodleian Libraries to make the first volume of Shakespeare's plays available online.

The Libraries have launched a fundraising appeal to digitise the first collected edition of the Bard's plays, known as the First Folio, dating back to around 1623.

The Sprint for Shakespeare campaign aims to raise £20,000 to put the playwright's work online - a cost of around £20 per page.

Once the work is complete, anyone will be able to access the website and the plays free of charge, Bodleian Libraries said.

There would also be articles and blogs from academics, specialists, theatre professionals and members of the public available.

Actress Vanessa Redgrave Credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The campaign has won the support of a number of actors, actresses, directors, producers and scholars. Fry said he was "whole-heartedly" supporting the project.

"First Folio as a phrase sounds so distant from our everyday lives, but this priceless and extraordinary collection of plays turned the world upside down (or should that be the right way up?) every bit as much as Newton was to do nearly 60 or so years later," he said.

"The works of Shakespeare, now as much as ever, tell us what it is to be alive. The ambiguity, doubt, puzzlement, pain, madness and hilarity of existence had never been expressed so well and to this day never has.

To bring the First Folio, the great authoritative publication, to everyone in the world via digitisation is as noble and magnificent a project as can be imagined."

Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and theatre and film director said: "The digitisation of the Bodleian copy of Shakespeare's First Folio is a project of huge importance.

"It will provide an unrivalled opportunity for textual study not only for actors, directors and other theatre practitioners and their academic colleagues, but also for audiences whose love of the plays has remained undiminished over the centuries."

Bodleian said that while copies of this book were not rare, their First Folio was a rarity because it had not been rebound or restored in nearly four centuries.

It shows marks of wear that reveal the literary tastes of early readers - while the pages of Romeo and Juliet have been nearly worn to shreds, King John has been left virtually intact, it added.