February 27, 2015

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The title page of the First Folio with Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare. Credit: Shakespeare First Folio, 1623. Folger Shakespeare Library.

AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College has been selected as the host site for the state of Massachusetts for First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, a national traveling exhibition of William Shakespeare’s First Folio, one of the world’s most treasured books. The Folger Shakespeare Library, in partnership with Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association, is touring a First Folio of Shakespeare in 2016 to all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico.

“We’re delighted to have been chosen as our state’s host site for the First Folio,” said archivist Peter Nelson, who is overseeing the exhibition and its related programming at Amherst. “The College couldn’t be more appropriate, because of our close ties to the Folger Shakespeare Library and because Amherst is where, as a senior, Henry Clay Folger, Class of 1879, first developed his interest in Shakespeare, which began a lifetime of incredible collecting.”

Many of Shakespeare’s plays, which were written to be performed, were not published during his lifetime. The First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. It was published in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death. Two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors compiled 36 of his plays, hoping to preserve them for future generations. Eighteen of the plays—including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors and As You Like It—appear for the first time in print in the First Folio, and would otherwise have been lost to history.

“The First Folio is the book that gave us Shakespeare. Between its covers we discover his most famous characters—Hamlet, Desdemona, Cordelia, Macbeth, Romeo, Juliet and hundreds of others—speaking words that continue to move and inspire us,” said Michael Witmore, director of the Folger. “Shakespeare tells the human story like no one else. He connects us to each other, to our history and to themes and ideas that touch us every day. We are delighted that we can share this precious resource with people everywhere, from San Diego, Calif., to Gurabo, Puerto Rico; from Eugene, Ore., to Duluth, Minn.”

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The Folger Shakespeare Library

The Folger Shakespeare Library 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. It is believed that 750 copies were originally printed. The Trustees of Amherst College administer the Folger under the will of the library’s founder and namesake.

The Shakespeare First Folio is 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. The book originally sold for one British pound (20 shillings)—the equivalent of about $200 today.

When the First Folio arrives in Amherst, it will be opened to the page with the most quoted line from Shakespeare and one of the most quoted lines in the world, “To be, or not to be” from Hamlet. Accompanying the rare book will be a multi-panel exhibition exploring the significance of Shakespeare, then and now, with additional digital content and interactive activities. During the exhibition, the College will present numerous related programs for the public and families. 

Final touring dates for the exhibition will be announced in April 2015.

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 Google.org and Vinton and Sigrid Cerf. Sponsorship opportunities are available for this major exhibition and for the Folger’s other Wonder of Will programs, which commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Learn more at www.folger.edu.

About Amherst College

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with 1,800 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, the College awards the B.A. degree in 38 fields of study. More than half of Amherst students receive need-based financial aid.

About Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library is a world-renowned center for scholarship, learning, culture and the arts. It is home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500–1750). The Folger is an internationally recognized research library offering advanced scholarly programs in the humanities; an innovator in the preservation of rare materials; a national leader in how Shakespeare is taught in grades K–12; and an award-winning producer of cultural and arts programs—theatre, music, poetry, exhibits, lectures and family programs. Learn more at www.folger.edu.  

About Cincinnati Museum Center

Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) at Union Terminal is a nationally recognized institution and national historic landmark. Dedicated to sparking community dialogue, insight and inspiration, CMC was awarded the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 2012. CMC is one of only 16 museums in the nation with both of these honors, making it a unique asset and a vital community resource. Union Terminal has been voted the nation’s 45th most important building by the American Institute of Architects. Organizations within CMC include the Cincinnati History Museum, Duke Energy Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science, Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater and Cincinnati History Library & Archives. Recognized by Forbes Traveler Magazine as the 17th most visited museum in the country, CMC welcomes more than 1 million visitors annually. For more information, visit www.cincymuseum.org

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 58,000 members in academic, public, school, government and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.

ALA’s Public Programs Office provides leadership, resources, training and networking opportunities that help thousands of librarians nationwide develop and host cultural programs for adult, young adult and family audiences. The mission of the ALA Public Programs Office is to promote cultural programming as an essential part of library service in all types of libraries. Projects include book and film discussion series, literary and cultural programs featuring authors and artists, professional development opportunities and traveling exhibitions. School, public, academic and special libraries nationwide benefit from the office’s programming initiatives. Additional information can be found at www.ala.org/programming.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at www.neh.gov.

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