News And Events

First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare Now on Exhibit at the Kansas City Public Library through June 28, 2016

One of the most valuable books in English Literature, is now on display at the Kansas City Public Library, Central Library downtown as part of a nationwide tour of the historical William Shakespeare First Folio document. The First Folio Exhibit opened June 6 and continues through June 28, 2016. It is a free exhibit on the fifth floor in the Missouri Valley Room.

The Kansas City Public Library is exhibiting this literary masterpiece as part of the international events planned for 2016 in observance of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death. The English-Speaking Union is one of six partners working with the Kansas City Public Library in bringing this exhibit to Kansas City.

Click here to watch a short video titled, "The First Folio: A 400 Year Obsession." It describes the history of the First Folio and how it has become so valuable to so many people.

This 1623 original edition of the playwright's first published collection will be exhibited in just one city in each of the 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

William A. Jackson, the first librarian of the Houghton Library at Harvard University, called the Shakespeare Folios "incomparably the most important work in the English language."  Indeed, the incalculable impact these plays have had on the English language is enormous.

Many of Shakespeare's plays were not published during his lifetime. When William Shakespeare died in 1616 only about half of his plays had ever been printed in small one-play editions called quartos. The First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. It was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death.

Two of Shakespeare's fellow actors compiled 36 of his plays into the First Folio, hoping to preserve them for future generations. Without it, we would not have 18 of Shakespeare's immortal works, including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors, and As You Like It.  Those 18 plays had never appeared previously in print and otherwise would have been lost.

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. holds 82 copies of the First Folio, by far the largest collection in the world and more than a third of the 233 known copies in the world today. Researchers believe that about 750 copies were originally printed. One of the most valuable printed books in the world, a First Folio sold for $6.2 million in 2001 at Christie's and another one for $5.2 million in 2006 in London. It originally sold for one British pound (20 shillings)—about $200 today.

This traveling exhibition tour titled, "First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare," offers the general public, English and history scholars, literary historians and, of course, students from grade school to post graduate studies a rare opportunity to observe and study this prestigious historical document. 

The First Folio is opened to a page displaying the most quoted line in the world: "to be or not to be" from Hamlet. Accompanying the 900-page book is a multi-panel exhibition exploring the significance of Shakespeare, then and now, with additional digital content and interactive activities.

Partnering with the Kansas City Public Library in bringing the exhibit to Kansas City are the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Department of Theatre and Department of English Language and Literature, the Kansas City branch of the English-Speaking Union, the Missouri Humanities Council, and KCUR-FM.

The English-Speaking Union of the United States, one of the national participating partners with the Folger Shakespeare Library's First Folio exhibit, is collaborating with host venues in cities in which the ESU has branches to support the "First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare," traveling exhibition. 

Working in concert with the Kansas City Public Library and other partners, the Kansas City Branch of the English-Speaking Union has developed a variety of activities and educational programs for the public, school teachers, and its members that will showcase and celebrate 400 years of William Shakespeare's legacy in 2016. 

"First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare," has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor and by the generous support of and Vinton and Sigrid Cerf.


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