First Folio! The Book That t Gave Us Shakespeare opens at the New Mexico Museum of Art
SHAKESPEARE’S FIRST FOLIO ON TOUR
Henry Clay Folger was thirty-twoo years old when he acquired his first t rare book, a rather tattered copy of f the so-called Fourth Folio of the plays s of William Shakespeare, a collection n that had been published in 1685. He e bought it in 1889 for $107.50. He traced d his fascination with Shakespeare too a decade earlier, when, as a senior r at Amherst College, he heard Ralph h Waldo Emerson give a lecture that t touched on the topic. Following his s graduation, he went to Columbia Law w School and then took a job within the e Standard Oil Company. He rose gradu- ally through the ranks to become presidentp of the Standard Oil Company of New York. In that capacity he earned a great deal of money, with which he and his wife, Emily, could support their collecting habit.
A Fourth Folio is good, but not as good as a First Folio, the original “collected works” of Shakespeare, which two of the pplaywright’syg colleaguesg publishedp in 1623, seven years after his death. About half of Shakespeare’s plays had appeared independently by then in stand-alone printings — the early “quartos” — but the 1623 publication, printed in the considerably larger “folio” format, assembled 36 of his 38 plays iinto a single voluume. But for the First FFolio, the plays thhat had not appeared iin quarto might well have been lost fforever, includingg such popular titles aas The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Julius CCaesar, and Macbeth. Even for plays tt hhat hhadd previouslyi appeared in qquarto, the First Folio sometimes provvided a more conscientious, carefully rrendered text. It stood as the principal ssource for ensuing Shakespeare colllected editions, including that Fourth FFolio that launched the Folgers along tthe primrose path.
They were savvy collectors, scouring ddealer lists and auction catalogs, often aacquiring books through third parties rrather than risk calling attention to ttheir interest in an item. Sometimes tthey bought entire collections. Boxes ccould pile up as Emily tried to keep hher card file of the collection reassonably up to date. At some point it bbecame clear that something needed to be done to enssure the collection’s viability after the Folgers were gone. They considered sites in New York City (where they lived), Amherst (Henry’s alma mater), and Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s hometown), but they ended up deciding on Washington, D.C., which held a certain appeal as the nation’s capital.
Over a number of years, they purchased various adjacent townhouses, demolished them, hired architeects and designers, and put plans into place for the librrary that would house their trove. Henry saw the cornerrstone of the building laid before he died in 1930, and he left the bulk of his estate to support the project and enssure that it would be managed by the trustees of Amherstt College.
The Folger Shakespeare Library opened in 11932 as a gift to the American people, and it continued to grow. Today it is the world’s largest repository deedicated entirely to Shakespeareana. The pièces de ré ésistance of its collection are its 82 copies of the First Folio,F by far the most in any institution anywhere. ScholarsS believe that no more than 750 copies of thee volume were printed, and 233 of those survive todaay. More than a third of them are at the Folger. Usuallyy, that is.
To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakeespeare’s death, which will be noted this April 23, thhe Folger decided to emphasize its founder’s conceptioon of his collection as a gift to the American people. In thhe course of this year, 18 of the Folger’s First Folios — six at a time — are taking to the road to make the rounnds of the United States, one of them being displayed forr three or four weeks at one location in each state plus Pueerto Rico and Washington, D.C. The first two of the 522 exhibitions, which include surrounding displays provided by the Folger, opened in early January at the Univversity of Notre Dame in Indiana and the Sam Noble Muuseum in Norman, Oklahoma; the last, at the Parthenon, an art museum in Nashville, Tennessee, closes on Jan. 2, 2017.
The New Mexico Museum of Art hosts thet First Folio from Friday, Feb. 5, through Feb. 288, as the centerpiece of a show titled First Folio! The Bo ook That Gave Us Shakespeare. Getting “dibs” on preesenting the show qualifies as a coup. Caroline Bedinnger, the Folger’s director of special events and visitor relationsr and the point person for all the library’s proojects in this quadricentennial year, sat on the in-houuse panel that evaluated the applications from potentiial hosts — a deluge that was “just shy of 200.” The saafety and security of the First Folios was obviously of supremes importance when it came to selecting the venues; but since many more than one per state did meetm the Folger’s security and environmental standardds, other qualifications became paramount in narrowinng down the applicant pool. Proposals about public programs are one example; the Folger required all presenters to host at least four events in the course of their exhibition, including two for families or students and two for adults, including scholarly panels. “One of the most exciting things was how diverse and local these proposals were,” Bedinger said. “They were all speaking with a deep knowledge of their own audiences and were drawing on their own state’s cultural resources, or on their own collections, to make the experience specific. The heartbreaking part, of course, was when we had to decide which organizations were not going to get to participate.”
Many of the winning proposals showed unforeseen imagination. “In New Orleans, they wanted to do a jazz procession,” she said. “In Minnesota, they’re doing performances involving canoes — ‘On the Lake with Shakespeare.’ It turns out that in Hawaii, they presented a lot of Shakespeare in the late 19th and early 20th century in Hawaiian, which was reported about in the newspapers there; so in Honolulu, they are developing an exhibition about that.” In South Dakota,
a symposium will include discussions of teaching Shakespeare in Native schools and of efforts to translate Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy into Lakota. In Florida, architectural students are using an “I-CAVE” to create a virtual-reality environment that plunges visitors into Shakespeare’s London circa 1598. An ancillary show in Santa Fe involves books and printing, a logical extension of the “main draw” given the resources of the Palace Print Shop & Bindery of the Palace of the Governors, just across the street from the New Mexico Museum of Art. (That, in turn, may underscore that Santa Fe was the only host city that was really a “going concern” when the First Folio was printed.) “Printing presses are an excellent way to bring visitors into the spirit of the First Folio,” Bedinger said. “Right there you have a great educational element, showing how the Folio was actually printed — fun and fascinating.”
A project of this scope was daunting to realize, and much of the responsibility for the logistics of it fell to Sloane Whidden, the Folger’s exhibition manager. The process was already underway when she joined the library just over a year ago. “It is very rare for us to lend a First Folio,” Whidden said, “but we can, in theory — and we are, in reality. We really d o want to share what we have with as broad an audience as possible.
“Each copy is unique, which is part of the reason for having such a broad range of First Folios in our collection,” she continued. “At every venue, the book will be open to the same passage: ‘ To be, or not to be.’” We wondered if keeping the volume open to the same page for a three- or four-week span was healthy for the book. “We’ve thought that through with our conservation team, and everyone is comfortable with it. All the venues are having low light levels in the rooms where the First Folio is displayed. This is also one of the reasons we are circulating different copies in and out of the tour.”
The Folger signed on the Cincinnati Museum Center to help with the “nuts and bolts” of the tour. “The Folger is a medium-sized organization,” Whidden said, “and to launch a tour of this scale — 52 venues in a year — is a very ambitious undertaking. The Cincinnati Museum Center has expertise in traveling exhibitions and tour management, so we are working together to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible with planning and executing installations at host sites.”
Even with the help of consultants, Bedinger adds, “It was quite a challenge last year to match what each site wanted in terms of when they could host it, when we could provide a First Folio — and fit everything into 12 months. There were a lot of spreadsheets and solving puzzles. Still, there are surprises. The other day one of the sites realized they had scheduled their opening on Election Day, so that required some adjustment. But people have proved very generous in this project. There’s a good give and take on everyone’s part. Beginning with the application phase, the whole experience just gives us a warm glow. I knew this was important but have come to realize just how important it is to so many people in different places and different ways.”
The globe appears in the Palace of the Governors’ show The Book’s the Thing: Shakespeare From Stage to Page