Published May 9th, 2016 at 8:00 AM
In 1623, a couple of guys got together and self-published some work by a dead friend of theirs named William Shakespeare.
Four hundred years later, this piece of “vanity publishing” is considered to be the crown jewel of our Western canon.
Shakespeare’s First Folio, as it is now known, is one of the most influential and treasured books in history. Without it, there would be no Shakespeare. Well, there would have been a Shakespeare, but we 21st-century denizens might never have heard of him.
“The Folio connects us to Shakespeare’s time and those who heard him, knew him, acted with him, ate and drank with him.” — Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the Kansas City Public Library
“The First Folio is way more important to us than it would’ve been to folks in Shakespeare’s time,” says Jonathan Lamb, an English professor at KU who specializes in early modern drama. “We give the book such an outsized value because of Shakespeare’s position in the center of our culture. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great writer, of course. It just means that the Shakespeare folio (with a lower-case f) became the Shakespeare First Folio (capital F) after Shakespeare’s plays acquired the lofty reputation they still enjoy.”
In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the First Folio is going on tour. Folger Shakespeare Library, in partnership with Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association, has mounted a unique tour; “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare.” By the time the tour is over, First Folios will have had residencies in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The locations include 23 museums, 20 universities, five public libraries, three historical societies, and a theater.
Researchers think that 750 or fewer copies of the First Folio were printed in 1623. Today 233 survive and, of those, 82 of are held by the Folger. Its collection represents the largest in the world.
Published by two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, the Folio includes 36 plays. 18 of those plays had already been printed, as individual works in the smaller quarto format; a leaflet with 9½ × 12 inch pages, made by folding printed sheets twice to form four leaves or eight pages). Folios – with each printed sheet folded once in half to produce four pages – had larger pages, making them more expensive to produce than quartos. And they were more prestigious, befitting the first full compilation of the Bard’s plays.
But the importance of the First Folio does not lie in the larger, more prestigious printing format. The Folio is revered today because, of the 36 plays included, 18 of them had never appeared in print, including mainstays of the canon like As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Winter’s Tale.
The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival (HASF) produced As You Like It in 2013, Macbeth in 2011, The Winter’s Tale in 2014, and this summer, Twelfth Night. None of those plays would have survived into our time without the Folio.
A total of 18 First Folios will be on display during the tour; six will travel at any one time. And one will be on display at the Kansas City Public Library, Central branch, in downtown Kansas City from June 6th through June 28.
“The Folio is a part of our shared heritage,” says Sidonie Garrett, executive artistic director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. “Having this historical, authentic document in Kansas City and providing the public the chance to see it and connect with it will allow people to feel closer to Shakespeare’s work. I think it will make Shakespeare’s complete works feel more familiar and also more sacred.”
Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the Kansas City Public Library, agrees. “The Folio connects us to Shakespeare’s time and those who heard him, knew him, acted with him, ate and drank with him,” Kemper says.
The First Folio’s residency in Kansas City has inspired a flurry of programming and collaboration.
In January, HASF presented a script-in-hand reading of Much Ado About Nothing at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library. In February, the library, in collaboration with University of Missouri-Kansas City, kicked off the “Ciné Shakespeare” series, a mini-film festival featuring four of the best Shakespeare films of the past 20 years (Shakespeare in Love (1998) in February, Richard III (1995) in March, Richard II (2012) in April and, still to come, Coriolanus (2011) on May 22). On May 1 and 3, HASF in collaboration with the Grammy-award-winning Kansas City Chorale presents “Such a Charm: Shakespeare in Song,” a program of choral music derived from Shakespeare’s plays interwoven with portions of his texts performed by professional actors.
“For the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, to have the First Folio exhibited and nearby during our summer season gives the entire year a feeling of something extra special happening,” Garrett says. “The Festival is doing more public performances and collaborations than ever before as part of the First Folio series of programs, and we hope, of course, that many people who view the First Folio and take part in the programming surrounding it will join us in Southmoreland Park, June 14 through July 3, for our 1920’s inspired production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy with lots of music, Twelfth Night!”
Why First? Why a Folio? Why It Matters. – Jonathan P. Lamb
6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12
They’re artifacts, nearly 400 years old, and only 233 are known to have survived to today. But what else has driven collectors to pay as much as $6 million for copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio? What renders this 900-page book so important that it merits a nationwide tour?
Lamb explores and explains the Folio’s mystique. Included is a look at how books were constructed in Shakespeare’s time and why that construction mattered.
En Garde Bard! – Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
2 p.m. Saturday, May 14
Kansas City Public Library North-East Branch
Learn to duel – safely, of course. The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival offers an interactive presentation of stage combat techniques, allowing participants to try their hands at wooden-sword dueling in scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Suitable for grades 3-12. This program will be repeated Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 5 p.m.
Shakespeare’s Continued Popularity – Joan FitzPatrick Dean
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 17
More than 400 years have passed since William Shakespeare penned his last play. And yet his prose, plots, and characters are as alive today as they were in the late 16th and early 17th centuries – performed on stage in almost every language around the world, required reading for high school English students, and reimagined by filmmakers.
Joan FitzPatrick Dean, the Curators’ Teaching Professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, examines that enduring appeal, taking particular note of Shakespeare’s then-revolutionary ideal of linking love, sex, and marriage.
First Folio: A 400-year Celebration – Bach Aria Soloists, Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 18
“Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio.”
Don Armado, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act I, sc. 2
The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and the Bach Aria Soloists meet onstage in a collaboration of Shakespeare’s poetry and prose from the First Folio and baroque musical masterpieces in a rich program of emotional storytelling.
CINÉ SHAKESPEARE: CORIOLANUS
2 p.m. Sunday, May 22
Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch
Hollywood has adapted, sampled, and stolen from William Shakespeare for more than a century – seeing his works as a source of prestige as soon as the commercial possibilities of narrative movies were apparent. May brings the fourth film in the series, Coriolanus (2011; Rated R; 123 minutes), introduced by Joan FitzPatrick Dean, who will also lead a discussion the screening.
The Millionaire and The Bard – Andrea Mays
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 24
The late 19th- and early 20th-century millionaire businessman Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily spent a lifetime tracking down one of literature’s greatest treasures, the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Known as the First Folio, it was published seven years after the Bard’s death in 1616 and surviving copies are valued at upwards of $5-6 million today. Folger and his wife founded the Shakespeare Folger Library to house his volumes and other Shakespeare materials, and it now holds 82 of the 233 copies of the Folio known to still exist.
In a discussion of her acclaimed book, Andrea Mays of California State University, Long Beach, unspools the absorbing story of the onetime refinery clerk who transformed himself into a well-to-do capitalist and spent much of his time and money pursuing the great playwright’s works.
Co-presented by the English-Speaking Union, Kansas City Branch.
The Bomb-itty of Errors – Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and Louder than a Bomb
6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 26
Take Shakespeare’s mistaken-identity farce, The Comedy of Errors. Give it a modern, hip-hop flavor. And you get The Bomb-itty of Errors, a unique, clever, often laugh-out-loud musical adaptation that debuted off-Broadway in 1999.
Young performers from Kansas City’s Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and the poetry slam competition Louder Than a Bomb sing, rap, and rhyme through a script-in-hand production that retains much of Shakespeare’s original text – revolving around two pairs of twins who were separated at birth and turn up in the same place 20 years later.
Winner of a Jeff Award for excellence in theatre in the Chicago area, among other honors, Bomb-itty is suitable for pre-teen through adult audiences.
Meet the Past: A Conversation with William Shakespeare
6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 1
His comedies, histories, and tragedies have been performed worldwide for more than 400 years, but William Shakespeare’s personal life remains something of a mystery. In a special installment of the unique, Emmy Award-winning series, “Meet the Past,” the famed playwright – as portrayed by Kansas City actor Mark Robbins – sits down with Library Executive Director Crosby Kemper III for a probing, public conversation about his life and celebrated body of work.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Friday Night Family Fun
6:30 p.m. Friday, June 3
There may be no better way to introduce younger audiences to Shakespeare than through a production of his enchanting comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Colorful and lively, it involves magic, fairies, mistaken identities, and plenty of action.
Team Shakespeare, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s teen theatre troupe, stages the play as part of the Library’s Friday Night Family Fun series, which offers entertaining and enriching activities for kids from the very young to teens and their families.
Twelfth Night Speaker Series – Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
1:30 p.m. Mondays, June 6, 13, 20 and 27
The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s four-part series of inside-the-play presentations focuses on its summer production of the mistaken-identity comedy Twelfth Night. Among the participants: HASF’s executive artistic director, Sidonie Garrett, who offers a director’s briefing and leads a discussion, and members of the HASF design team.
The series is co-sponsored by SPARK (Senior Peers Actively Renewing Knowledge), which provides lifelong learning opportunities for adults 55 and older. It is affiliated with the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Cataloging the First Folios – Eric Rasmussen
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 7
When librarians in a township in northern France began wondering late in 2014 whether their centuries-old book of Shakespeare’s works might be a rare copy of the First Folio, they put in a call to one of the world’s greatest authorities on the subject. Eric Rasmussen traveled to St. Omer, examined the beat-up book, and made the verification.
Few, if any, know the Folio like Rasmussen, a professor and chair of the English Department at the University of Nevada at Reno and co-editor of The Shakespeare First Folio: A Descriptive Catalogue. Marking the opening of the exhibit, ”First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare at the Library,” he discusses the Folio and his work, including two decades of research that went into identifying 232 surviving copies of the treasured volume (the one in France was the 233rd).
Show Me Shakespeare: Family Day
2 p.m. Sunday, June 12
Take in an afternoon of family-friendly sights, sounds, activities, and entertainment that bring Shakespeare, his plays, and the Elizabethan Age to life. The celebration caps the first week of the special exhibit,” First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare,” on display in the fifth-floor Missouri Valley Room.
Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays
6:30 p.m. Monday, June 13
Early on, the women in Shakespeare’s works tended to be simple caricatures – shrews to be tamed or sweet little things with no discernible independent thought. As the great writer matured, however, his female characters did, as well. Take the heroine of Romeo and Juliet, whose inner thoughts and feelings were achingly revealed, who was every bit as courageous as Romeo and received equal billing in the title of the play.
Tina Packer, founder of one of the largest Shakespeare festivals in the country, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, explores the playwright’s evolving understanding of femininity in a discussion of her book, Women of Will. Whether his ladies were disguised as men or wearing dresses, whether they were creating love in the world or pain and suffering, Shakespeare never backed away after Juliet from giving them their full due as human beings.
Pop Sonnets – Eric Didriksen
6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 16
We, with our time borne ceaselessly away / can heroes be, if just for one brief day.
Shakespeare, in this case, meets Davie Bowie’s Heroes, one of more than 100 classic pop songs reimagined by Erik Didriksen as 14-line, iambic pentameter Shakespearean sonnets. The New York musician started with an adaptation of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe in 2014, and since has tweaked the works of artists ranging from 50 Cent and Adele to Justin Bieber, Green Day and Drake.
Didriksen, a software engineer by trade who has been featured in Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, and the A.V. Club, performs some of his best works – pulled from his Tumblr and his book Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs.
Shakespeare and Hip Hop – Nicole Hodges Persley
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21
Was the Bard an old-school Jay Z?
Shakespeare’s theatre isn’t as far removed from modern-day hip hop as you might think. Both represent energetic and inventive forms of expression, featuring poetry, wordplay, and lyricism. Both deal with what it is like to be human, with real issues in people’s lives.
Nicole Hodges Persley, an associate professor of theatre at the University of Kansas, explores the connection between the works of Shakespeare and today’s stylized rap offerings and the wider cultural debate around language and its power. One of the founding program directors of the Hiphop Archive & Research Institute at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Dubois Institute, she focuses her research on the impact of racial, ethnic, and national identity on performance practices in theatre, television, and film
Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies
6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 23
The book we know as the First Folio wasn’t given that title by the two colleagues who posthumously published Shakespeare’s plays in 1623. Its formal name, Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, is more functional, laying out genres for the 36 collected plays.
Peter Holland, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Shakespeare, examines the choice and significance of the volume’s title. What was behind it? How does thinking about genre help us understand how the plays work?
Holland is associate dean for the arts in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters and the McMeel Family Professor in Shakespeare Studies in the school’s department of film, television, and theatre. He is a past president of the Shakespeare Association of America.
Co-presented by McMeel Family Foundation.
SHAKESPEARE AND THE ART OF THE WORD – METROPOLITAN ENSEMBLE THEATRE
2 p.m. Sunday, June 26
The Library continues its 10th season of Script-in-Hand performances and more than six months of special programming surrounding one of the cultural events of the year – an exhibit featuring a rare, nearly four-centuries-old First Folio collection of Shakespeare’s plays.
Shakespeare’s Questionable Identity – Felicia Hardison Londré
6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13
The question may be met with chagrin by traditionalists, but to some, the identity of William Shakespeare is not positively decided.
They have trouble squaring the Bard’s works with the life of the presumed author from Stratford-upon-Avon, holding that only an aristocrat – which he was not – could have penned such elevated prose. Oxfordians point to Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who was the most flamboyant of the courtier poets of the time and a theater and literary patron.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Felicia Hardison Londré delves into the sensitive question of authorship in an illustrated presentation. The Curators’ Professor of Theatre at UMKC, she is the honorary co-founder of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and was the founding secretary of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America.