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

Oxford University's Bodleian Libraries has launched a fundraising appeal to digitise the first collected edition of the Bard's plays, known as the First Folio, which date back to around 1623.

The Sprint for Shakespeare campaign aims to raise £20,000 to put 1,000 pages of the playwright's work online - a cost of around £20 per page.

stephen fry

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.

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.

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  • Shakespeare's work contains the first recordings of over 2000 English words including elbow, lackluster and moonbeam. PICTURE: Artfinder

  • He is also responsible for inventing a huge number of expressions still in common use today. These include: fancy free; dash to pieces; lay it on with a trowel; rhyme nor reason, and wear your heart on your sleeve PICTURE: Wikimedia

  • In Shakespeare's time theatres had no curtain and no scenery, and lighting was just daylight or candlelight, so the set had to be written into the play and described by the actors. PICTURE: Wikimedia

  • In 1613 the original Globe theatre burned down when a cannon shot during a performance of Henry VIII caused it to go up in flames.

  • There is evidence to suggest that the William Shakespeare did not in fact write the Shakespeare plays: about 50 other candidates have been suggested, include Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. Among those who doubt Shakespeare's authorship are Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud and Charlie Chaplin. PICTURE: Wikimedia

  • The First Folio was the first extensive collection of Shakespeare's plays, and was published after his death in 1623. It is the only source for about 20 of Shakespeare's plays, which otherwise would be lost.

  • Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare, made gloves for a living but in the 1570s he was prosecuted four times for breaking the law by trading in wool and money-lending. PICTURE: Wikimedia

  • According to the<em> Oxford Dictionary of Quotations</em>, Shakespeare wrote about one tenth of the most quotable quotations ever written or spoken in the English language.

  • When Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, she was already three months pregnant with their first child. PICTURE: Wikimedia

  • Although he spelled it all kinds of ways throughout his life (such as Willm Shaksp and William Shakspere) he never actually signed his name 'William Shakespeare'. PICTURE: Wikimedia

  • The family line ended in 1670 when Shakespeare's daughter Judith died. She was the only one of his three children to have children, and they all died young. PICTURE: Wikimedia