January 7, 2016
The Folger Shakespeare Library is taking the Bard’s First Folio on the road
by Simon Reichley
Perhaps the most ubiquitous and influential writer in the history of the English language is getting a roadshow. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s birth this year, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. will be sending twelve of its eighty-two copies of William Shakepeare‘s First Folio on a whirlwind tour to all 50 states.
The First Folio—which typically rests locked behind several fire doors in the Library’s rare books vault—is the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s known plays. According to Folger’s, when Shakespeare died in 1616, only half of his plays had ever been printed. The folio was published in 1623 by John Hennings and Henry Condell, and contained the first printed copy of some of the true classics in the Shakespeare canon: The Tempest, Twelfth Night, As You Like It (which we can thank for the obnoxiously over-quoted “All the worlds a stage” monologue), Macbeth, and fourteen other previously unpublished plays.
Susan Stamberg at NPR reports:
There was a ready audience for Shakespeare’s work, which was sold in bookseller shops and stalls in London. For 20 shillings ($200 in today’s money) you could buy loose sheets of paper and take them to your binder, who put them between hard covers. Of the approximately 750 copies of the First Folio that were printed, 233 survive.
The Folger is calling the tour (somewhat unimaginatively) “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare.” The First Folio tour is part of the library’s year-long celebration of all things Bardic, a celebration that’s being called (somewhat more imaginatively) The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare. You can check out a full list of where the First Folios will be, and when they’ll be there, here.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.