March 28, 2016

Amherst will be the only location in Massachusetts to host the original First Folio May 9–31, as part of a national touring exhibition celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare.

First Folio

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of poet and playwright William Shakespeare, several of the Bard’s original 1623 First Folios are embarking on a cross-country tour. In the state of Massachusetts, Amherst College will be the only stop for the traveling exhibition titled First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, an initiative made possible by the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The First Folio will be on display at Amherst’s Mead Art Museum May 9–31, and the exhibition will be free and open to the public. Visitors will be able to see the book itself, which will be open to Hamlet’s famous “To Be or Not To Be” monologue. Accompanying the 1623 book will be a six-panel display exploring Shakespeare’s impact, then and now, along with interactive, digital activities.

Considered one of the most influential books in the world, the First Folio includes 36 Shakespeare plays, 18 of which had never been printed before. Without the First Folio, all of those plays—including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, As You Like It and more—might have been lost forever. Compiled by two of Shakespeare’s friends and theater colleagues, the First Folio was published seven years after the Bard’s death in 1616.

First Folio, open to Hamlet's "To Be or Not To Be" monologue. The text, "to be or not to be," appears near the bottom of the first column of page 265.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see the book itself, open to Hamlet’s famous “To Be or Not To Be” monologue. Can you spot the phrase in the image above? (See a larger version.)

“Amherst has long prized connections to primary-source literary documents because of the insight they offer into the history of the written word. We are particularly excited to be the Massachusetts host of the First Folio,” said Amherst President Biddy Martin. “The collector’s connection to the College makes the occasion of its visit unique to Amherst. It is a special treat to be part of the tour of this global treasure.”

Portrait of Henry Clay Folger, Amherst College class of 1875 Henry Clay Folger, class of 1879

The collector to which Martin referred is Folger Shakespeare Library founder and namesake Henry Clay Folger (1857–1930). Folger graduated from Amherst in 1879 and embarked on a highly successful career in business. He also spent much of his adult life building his Shakespeare collection, widely regarded as the greatest in the world.

“It does seem fitting that the First Folio returns to the alma mater of Henry Folger, given the passion and curiosity for Shakespeare he cultivated during his college years and then upon graduating,” said Michael Kelly, head of the College’s Archives and Special Collections, which is presenting a small exhibition, now through May 31, about Folger’s time at Amherst. (This exhibition includes selections from the College’s rare book collection and the College’s copy of the Second Folio, published in 1632.) “His preservation of Shakespeare’s works is yet another illustration of the great appreciation of the arts and humanities that an Amherst education instills in graduates. We are so thrilled to have one of Folger’s own First Folios here.”

Beginning in April through the end of May, Amherst will offer educational programs and related events for the public and families, including presentations by internationally recognized scholars, public performances of Shakespeare’s plays, and workshops for local teachers, as well as events organized by the Emily Dickinson Museum and The Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies at UMass.

For a full schedule of related programming, visit amherst.edu/go/firstfolio.


Amherst College

Founded in 1821, Amherst College 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. Henry Clay Folger, renowned collector and founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library, graduated from Amherst College in 1879. Learn more at www.amherst.edu.   

Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the ultimate resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world. The Folger welcomes millions of visitors online and in person. We provide unparalleled access to a huge array of resources, from original sources to modern interpretations. With the Folger, you can experience the power of performance, the wonder of exhibitions and the excitement of path-breaking research. We offer the opportunity to see and work with early modern sources, driving discovery and transforming education for students of all ages. Shakespeare’s world is vast. Come explore. Join us online, on the road or in Washington, D.C. Learn more at www.folger.edu.

Partners in this exhibition include:

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.

American Library Association

The American Library Association 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. Additional information can be found at www.ala.org/programming.

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.