Shakespeare’s First Folio is Texas Bound

Without Shakespeare’s First Folio, the world would have lost 18 of the bard’s plays.

By Laura RiceFebruary 1, 2016 10:52 am| ,

Something has the literary world in a tizzy lately – not a new novel or the buzz about upcoming awards. It’s the tour of an original artifact of the bard. That’s right, we’re talking Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare’s first folio, the first printed collection of his plays, dates back to 1623. Copies of it are going on tour across the U.S. to mark 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. The folio is making only one stop in Texas: in College Station.

Kevin O’Sullivan, a professor at Texas A&M’s libraries, is organizing the folio’s visit, “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.”

He says he’s a big fan of Shakespeare’s work, and even if he wasn’t before, he would be now.

The folio’s tour across the states and Puerto Rico is thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. They hold 82 of the world’s 233 existing copies of the folio’s first printing, the largest number in the world. Scholars estimate that 750 or fewer copies of the First Folio were originally printed.

“The first folio is important because it’s really the book that gave us Shakespeare,” O’Sullivan says. “At the time of Shakespeare’s death in 1616, only 18 of his plays had been published in sort of smaller quarto editions. So in 1623, when two of his fellow actors collected a total of 36 plays, it really was a significant publication. A full 18 of these 36 would have been lost had they not been published in the first folio.”

Some of these not-forgotten plays include All’s Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Twelfth Night.

The printing grouped the plays for the first time into different genres: comedy, history and tragedy. The folio also includes the famous engraved portrait of Shakespeare by William Droeshout.

Texas A&M University took part in the competitive application process to bring one of the copies of the First Folio to their institution. O’Sullivan says there were a number of distinctive programs at the university, which he thinks gave them the edge over other places who were also interested in housing the folio for a time.

“We’re the host of the World Shakespeare Bibliography,” he says. “Also here in Cushing Memorial Library, where I work, we have the book history workshop.”

The annual workshop teaches bibliography and book production using all period-accurate equipment from the hand-pressed period.

O’Sullivan says they have quite a line-up for the First Folio.

“In true A&M style, we are doing this Texas-sized,” he says.

The folio display will be free and open to the public on the Texas A&M campus from March 8 through April 3, in the student center. There will also be free Shakespearean events going on throughout the semester, with eight film screenings and four live performances. The student events hope to be a place “where they can come really get involved with the language, get out of their chairs and engage with actors and educators to become more comfortable with Shakespeare,” O’Sullivan says.