Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2015 Issue

Shakespeare's First Folio to Tour America

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Shakespeare's First Folio has been scheduled for a national tour of the U.S. for 2016. Perhaps the most important book in the English language will be visiting all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico sometime next year. The tour is being put on by the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Cincinnati Museum Center, and the American Library Association. The sites to be visited include 23 museums, 20 universities, 5 public libraries, 3 historical societies, and a theater. The year 2016 marks the 400th year since the passing of Shakespeare.

 

The First Folio (official title Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies) was published in 1623, seven years after the author's death. This publication is of such great importance because many of Shakespeare's plays would have been lost forever but for this printing. Thirty-six of his plays were published within its pages, 18 of which otherwise would not have survived. Among those preserved only through the First Folio were Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, and As You Like It. The other 18 plays had been printed previously, but the 18 saved by the First Folio had never before been printed, and it now being seven years since the author had died, would never have survived but for this book. Fortunately, two of Shakespeare's actors, realizing that his works were about to be lost, published the First Folio just in time to save them.

 

The tour will begin in January of 2016 at three locations, each exhibition lasting four weeks. If you are wondering how a First Folio can be displayed simultaneously at multiple locations, don't worry. This is not a problem for the Folger Library. They own an astonishing 82 copies of the book. That is over a third of the 233 copies still known to exist out of what is believed to be a print run of about 750 copies. It sold for £1 new, or about $200 today. A couple of copies have been sold at auction this century for over $5 million each. The First Folio is so named because it was the first of four folio size editions printed at various times during the 17th century. The Folger will actually be using 18 of its First Folios for the traveling displays next year.

 

The copies on display will be opened to the page with the most familiar of Shakespeare quotes: “to be or not to be.” If the question is what play does that come from, the answer is Hamlet.

 

The tour, officially named First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, will include various exhibitions and interactive activities along with a copy of the great book. Additionally, each site will be hosting their own programs around the exhibition. Locations for exhibitions range from Juneau, Alaska, to Miami, Florida, and Honolulu, Hawaii, to Portland Maine. A full listing of the sites can be found at the following link: www.ala.org/programming/firstfoliosites. Touring dates for each location are expected to be released later this month.

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