Just a Book: the First Folio

March 4, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the First Folio exhibit in Santa Fe, NM. I was not disappointed. Around me, I heard jokes of: “Ah! Look at that. Oh, it's just a book.” Yes. Just a book. A book that has endured for four hundred years must be much much more than an everyday book.

Photo courtesy of Alissa Simon

Photo courtesy of Alissa Simon

In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, a group of Shakespeare's friends gathered his plays into one book. They published it in a folio form (a new and more prestigious form of print than formerly used). The First Folio included 18 previously unpublished plays. Though it is believed that 750 copies were originally printed, only 233 still exist today.

Shakespeare's works have generated more dialogue than any other single book, with the exception of the Bible. Countless idioms have come from his clever, inventive language (here are a number for your review). Authors continue to print books with Shakespeare in mind (visit Ian Doescher's most recent combination of Star Wars and Shakespeare). He has even inspired a sort of culinary culture. All of this because his language and plays were preserved, in large part, through the efforts of the First Folio.

More importantly, to me, however, is the continual relevance of Shakespeare's characters. Shakespeare wrote real, fully-fleshed characters who introduce extremely complex ideas. His ideas are modern, contemporary, universal. And I, for one, continue to love his work, which feels endlessly applicable. I loved this exhibit: a single page set out for an audience to wander past. I loved the script of the First Folio, the intricate and careful letters, the antiquated spellings, the slightly faded ink, the large, leather-bound volume and the immenseness of each page. I am thrilled to have seen such a treasure. I am even more thrilled at our ability to re-read these works and am grateful to those who had the foresight to collect all the plays into a single volume.

Photo courtesy of Alissa Simon

Photo courtesy of Alissa Simon

For more information and events surrounding the First Folio, visit the Folger Library website.

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