Arts & Culture

Granoff to display Shakespeare’s First Folio

Collection of 36 plays to be presented alongside Shakespearean programs, draw statewide interest

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Granoff Center for the Creative Arts will play host to a piece of history next week with the arrival of Shakespeare’s First Folio.

The book comes to Brown as part of “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare,” an exhibit created by the Folger Shakespeare Library in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death in 1616. Throughout the year, the exhibit will make its way to each of the 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, offering the entire country a chance to revel in four centuries of Shakespeare. 

Next Monday, the exhibit will touch down in Rhode Island, where it will be housed at Brown for three weeks before moving on to Amherst College in Massachusetts. 

The exhibit seeks to showcase the importance of the First Folio, a collection of 36 Shakespearean plays assembled seven years after his death. Eighteen of the plays featured in the book — including “Macbeth,” “The Tempest”  and “Julius Caesar” — were first discovered in the folio.

“This is one of the most important books in the world’s cultural history,” said Coppélia Kahn, professor emerita of English, who assisted in securing the University’s role as host location for the folio during its stay in Rhode Island.

When the folio arrives on campus, it must spend a day soaking in the Ocean State air in order to get acclimated to the humidity and the temperature, a process Kahn equated with overcoming jetlag. The book will then be displayed in a climate-controlled, lockable box with its page turned to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “to be or not to be.” Because the last folio sold in 2006 for $5.2 million, there will be security manning the exits of the exhibit at all times.

The guarded folio will be accompanied by six informational panels to inform visitors about “the constant omnipresence of Shakespeare in our culture,” Kahn said. The panels, aided by digital content, illustrate the way Shakespeare has seeped into everyday language. Phrases such as “break the ice,” “elbow room” and “bated breath” were all penned by the Bard.

Chira DelSesto, assistant director of the Creative Arts Council, said this type of educational display about a historical artifact is rare for Granoff, as its exhibits tend to focus more on contemporary modern art. “We’ve done other exhibits, nothing quite as priceless as what this is,” DelSesto said. As a result, she expects the showing to attract a more diverse audience, such as students from local schools.

According to Kahn, this broadened reach is one of the main goals of the exhibit. “This is not a campus event,” she said. “We are aiming to draw in people from all over Rhode Island.”

In an effort she describes as “24/7, dawn to dusk,” Kahn helped create a series of Shakespeare-themed programs to offer additional appeal to Rhode Islanders.

These programs will coincide with the folio’s three-week stay and will include a panel, film festival, workshop and a showing of Brown’s own two copies of the First Folio. Boston-based band “Seven Times Salt,” which specializes in music from the 16th and 17th centuries, will also perform songs explicitly mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays “on period instruments and with historic pronunciation,” according to the exhibit’s website.

Once the programming comes to an end, the folio will leave Brown and continue its tour across America, venturing to 23 museums, 20 universities, five public libraries, three historical societies and a theater. But even after the folio departs, Kahn said Shakespeare will remain a critical part of Brown, taught every year in the English department and produced outdoors every spring by theatre troupe Shakespeare on the Green.

“Shakespeare is as traditional at Brown as the Carrie Tower or the Van Wickle Gates,” Kahn said.