Shakespeare's First Folio Coming to Kansas City


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culture , Kansas City
Special events lead up to summer exhibition.
Author: Courtney Lewis
It’s one of the world’s rarest, most treasured books – nearly four centuries old, value in the millions, responsible for some of mankind’s greatest literary works surviving to today.

The First Folio, published in 1623, was the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Of some 750 copies originally printed, only 233 are known to still be in existence.

One is coming to Kansas City, scheduled for public display at the Kansas City Public Library in June. It will be the only place in Missouri to experience the Folio in person.

The Library is making the exhibit the centerpiece of a six-month, Show Me Shakespeare celebration of the Bard and his works, kicking off an extensive lineup of special programming for 2016. It features presentations by nationally renowned Shakespeare scholars and authors, stage and musical presentations, film screenings and discussions, workshops, and an array of children’s and family activities

The Folio exhibit, First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, opens June 6 at the Central Library in downtown Kansas City. The book’s approximately foot-tall pages will be turned to the most quoted line in the world: “to be or not to be” from Hamlet.

Full details on the Folio and the Library’s programming are available online.

It will be accompanied by multiple interpretative panels that explore Shakespeare’s historical significance and include digital content and interactive activities. The exhibit runs through June 28.

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. is placing 18 copies of the Folio on tour in 2016, commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. A single host site was selected in each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

The Kansas City Public Library, which has made special events programming a signature, was announced as Missouri’s site last February.

“For most people, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come close – very close – to one of the most influential books in history,” Director Crosby Kemper III says.

The Folio was published seven years after Shakespeare’s death in 1616 in Statford-upon-Avon, England. Two of his fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, compiled 36 of his plays in hopes of preserving them for future generations. Eighteen of the works – including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors, and As You Like It – had never appeared previously in print and otherwise would have been lost.

Prices for privately held surviving copies of the First Folio underscore its value. One sold for $6.2 million at Christie’s auction house in London in 2001. Another went for $5.2 million in 2006.

The book originally sold for one British pound, roughly the equivalent of $200 today.

The series of speaker events begins March 22 with an examination of Shakespeare’s trajectory in the U.S. – Oh, Brave New World! Shakespeare in America – by Felicia Hardison Londre, the Curators’ Professor of Theatre at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It takes place at the Central Library in downtown Kansas City.

The traveling First Folio exhibit has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor and by the support of and Vinton and Sigrid Cerf.

  Kansas City Public Library
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