First Folio! Folger Shakespeare Library


From Hamlet to Romeo and Juliet, the characters in Shakespeare's plays are timeless and familiar. But how do we know about Shakespeare's works at all?

For many of the plays, the answer is the book at the heart of this exhibition: the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare. The First Folio includes 36 of Shakespeare's plays, 18 of which were never printed before. Without it, they could easily have been lost.

Marking the 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare's death, First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare is a nationwide, touring exhibition to all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico in 2016. At each location, the First Folio will be displayed open to one of Shakespeare's most famous passages, which has challenged and inspired actors for four centuries: the "to be or not to be" speech from Hamlet.


Portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout

The name "Shakespeare" is as large as possible on the title page of the First Folio, showing us that it was a major selling point for the book. The title page also includes one of only two images of William Shakespeare approved by those who knew him. (The other one is a memorial bust in his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon.)

Shakespeare was not only a playwright. He was also an actor, a poet, and a business partner in his acting company—the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later called the King's Men.

Shakespeare died in 1616. In the years after his death, two of his friends and partners in the King's Men, John Heminge and Henry Condell, assembled 36 of his plays, creating the First Folio.

The wonderful book in this exhibition, the 1623 First Folio, probably had a print run of 750 copies. Fewer than a third—233 copies—are known today.

Thirty six of Shakespeare's 38 plays are in the First Folio, and 18 were originally printed only in the Folio. Those plays include such favorites as Macbeth, The Tempest, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, and Twelfth Night.

About a century ago, Henry Folger and his wife, Emily, collected countless books, manuscripts, and other items related to Shakespeare and his time. Their collection included 82 First Folios, the largest group in the world.

The First Folio on display in this exhibit is from the Folger Shakespeare Library, established by the Folgers in Washington, DC, a block from the US Capitol.


First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare is produced in association with the American Library Association and the Cincinnati Museum Center, and is made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and by the support of, The Lord Browne of Madingley, Vinton and Sigrid Cerf, British Council, Stuart and Mimi Rose, Albert and Shirley Small, and other generous donors.

Educational programs and related events for the public and families are provided in collaboration with several statewide partners, including the Gerald R. Sherratt Library, Southern Utah University; the Utah Shakespeare Festival; Utah Humanities; the Utah Department of Heritage & Arts; Utah Valley University Library; the Utah State Library; and the Marriott Library, University of Utah.