Shakespeare By the Book, and First Folio at UVa

Oct 18, 2016

If you haven’t made it out to see it already, William Shakespeare’s First Folio will be on display at the University of Virginia until the end of this month. WMRA’s Sefe Emokpae tells us more about why the book is at Thomas Jefferson’s university and what makes it such a big deal.

For the month of October, the University of Virginia is hosting one of the surviving copies of William’s Shakespeare’s First Folio.

MOLLY SCHWARTZBURG: Well first of all, what is a folio? The folio term simply means that the pieces of paper used to make the book have only been folded once.

Molly Schwartzburg is curator at UVa’s Special Collections Library. As she explains, Shakespeare’s First Folio is the first large-format collection of Shakespeare’s plays and represents some of the earliest surviving documentation of many of his most famous plays.

SCHWARTZBURG: The First Folio includes all of the plays that we know. Hamlet, All’s Well that Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, just to pick some of my own favorites. Othello, King Lear, basically Shakespeare's canon of plays is in this volume.

The book has made its way to UVa grounds as part of a nationwide project in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Out of an estimated 750 originally printed copies, a little more than 200 have survived and one has been placed in each of the 50 states and two territories. Schwartzburg says UVA was an ideal venue to receive the honor.

SCHWARTZBURG: Our campus is itself a cultural heritage monument so having this artifact that really documents the birth of so much of what we think of as the English language in Shakespeare's plays right here next to Jefferson's grounds is just wonderful.

And she says the public response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

SCHWARTZBURG: Obviously the first folio has been a huge draw. A lot of people are coming because they feel it's important to come stand in the presence of the volume. In some ways it feels as though it’s memorial tribute to the idea of Shakespeare, the figure of Shakespeare in the 400th year since his death.

Shakespeare fan, Caitlin Horton drove almost an hour from Madison County on opening weekend just to get a glimpse of the book she thinks of as literary gold.

CAITLIN HORTON: I'm a huge fan. I've also performed some his works like one of my favorites is Twelfth Night and then I also like The Merchant of Venice.

Horton was also a fan of UVA’s own Shakespeare exhibit meant to serve as a complement to the First Folio display. Called “Shakespeare: By the Book,” the exhibit explores Shakespeare in print form. Schwartzburg explains.

SCHWARTZBURG: This exhibition looks at how Shakespeare has been transformed in the physical space of the book from I guess our earliest item is 1619, all the way up to 2015.

HORTON: It's very well informed and very put together which is awesome and I love that it's not just about the first folio but about editorial as a basis which I think is really cool.

The First Folio will be on display through October 26. The rest of UVa’s exhibit will be open until the very end of December.