There are basically two reactions people have to Shakespeare: They’re either infatuated with his use of language, or they can’t understand a word the man wrote (or, er, directed his actors to recite). Regardless, almost all of us—thanks in large part to high school English—have some connection to the Bard. But we likely wouldn’t have without the help of some of Shakespeare’s friends.
In 1623—seven years after Shakespeare’s death—two of his actors wrote what is known as the First Folio, the first collected edition of all the Bard’s plays, including 18 that had never been printed before (Macbeth and As You Like It among them). There are believed to be 233 copies in existence today, 82 of which are held by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. And 400 years after his death, one of those books is going on its first-ever tour of the United States.
Through August 31, you can view this precious artifact at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Art Museum—opened to Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech—along with a fourth folio from the museum’s collection. (The book of plays proved so popular that new editions were printed. The fourth run stands out for its high number of typographical errors and the addition of plays that scholars now know were not written by Shakespeare.) “It’s one of those things that, intellectually, you know you’re going to go see a 400-year-old book,” says Hadley Kamminga-Peck, First Folio project manager and recent CU Ph.D. graduate (she wrote her dissertation on Elizabethan Shakespearean studies), but “this book is the reason Shakespeare has survived the way that he has for 400 years. We wouldn’t have this direct connection that we do if it wasn’t printed when it was. It’s the closest thing we have to Shakespeare.”
CU has programmed a number of events related to the First Folio, so your trip to Boulder won’t just be for a photo-op of the book. Theater performances, lectures, food tastings, and more are planned throughout the month, and many are free. Two highlights: A performance of Shakespeare’s “all-star” speeches (August 25, CU Art Museum), and Shakespeare in the Stars (August 26), during which attendees will listen to Shakespearean passages referencing the heavens and then learn about the phenomena as the celestial scenes play out at the Fiske Planetarium.
“[Viewing a First Folio] really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kamminga-Peck says. “It’s not something you just walk in off the street and see—except for this month, in Colorado, it is.”
If You Go: The First Folio is free to view, but visitors are encouraged to register for a time. Can’t get enough Shakespeare? Mark your calendars for The Book of Will, opening at Denver’s Ricketson Theatre on January 13. The play focuses on the two men behind the publication of the First Folio.