Stage set for rare show of Shakespeare’s classic plays
The public is getting a rare peak at first and early editions of some of William Shakespeare’s most beloved plays.
The Boston Public Library is commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death with Shakespeare Unauthorized, a free exhibition that opens on Friday. The library famously holds a copy of the so-called First Folio, the earliest published collection of Shakespeare’s works.
Early “quartos,” or booklets for individual works like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice, are also among the highlights of the exhibition.
“These are the books that all modern Shakespeare texts are based on,” says Jay Moschella, the library’s curator for rare books. “They’re extremely valuable and we’re one of the few places that has them. They’re one of the great cultural treasures of Boston.”
Shakespeare Unauthorized features roughly 60 items, a relatively modest selection from the library’s sizeable holdings of original works by Shakespeare, which are considered among the largest and most comprehensive among public institutions in the United States.
The last time the library showcased these materials was 100 years ago, on the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s death, according toMoschella. Most of the year, they’re securely kept and made available to researchers by request.
The library purchased much of its collection of Shakespeare materials —along with thousands of other early works of English literature— for $34,000 from the family of a prominent collector in 1873.
Tucked in grand, Beaux downtown, Unauthorized the library’s Arts building Shakespeare opens with a discussion of Hamlet and howearly versions of the seminal work differed.
The famous line “To be or not to be, that is the question”, for example, is written “To be or not to be, ay, there’s the point” in the earliest version.
“It’s not only significantly less poetic, but it’s also one of the central questions ofShakespearean scholarship,” Moschella explains. “Why is that text different and how does that affect what we’re reading?”
A book conservator polishes a case containing 17th century editions of plays of William Shakespeare at the Boston Public Library on Tuesday.