First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare (an eyewitness account)

As some of you may know, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. has taken several of its 82 copies of the First Folio on tour this year, bringing one to each of the fifty U.S. states and Puerto Rico to honor the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Drew University, my alma mater, was the tour’s only stop in New Jersey, most likely due to the award-winning Shakespeare Theatre on our campus. First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare was at Drew from October 6-30, and I stopped by last week to see it for myself.

Behold. The First Folio. So exciting!

It was pretty cool to see one of these famous books with my own eyes. I was surprised by its excellent condition. I guess was expecting something much more worn and older looking. The First Folio was published in 1623.


“To be, or not to be, that is the Question” – Hamlet

The exhibition display (presumably provided by the Folger) was excellent. Large wall texts discussed Shakespeare’s influence throughout time. For example, one panel talked about all the commonly-used phrases coined by Shakespeare, while another listed some of the famous actors to take on Shakespearean roles during their careers. I was surprised to learn that half of the works included in the First Folio were never published during Shakespeare’s lifetime, meaning that they probably would have been lost if not for the First Folio. Imagine a world without As You Like It or Twelfth Night! The curators did a great job of contextualizing the First Folio’s importance and why it’s worthy of all this fuss. Several adjunct exhibitions set up by Drew (including one curated by my former professor) were excellent as well. I particularly enjoyed the display showing how books were made in the seventeenth century. Both the Drew Theatre Department and the Shakespeare Theatre produced Shakespeare plays this month (Hamlet and Richard III respectively), but unfortunately I didn’t get to see either one.

For anyone wanting to learn more the First Folio or hoping to catch a future stop on the tour, you can’t go wrong visiting the Folger’s website.

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