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The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare on Display in Seattle

April 7, 2016
First Folio is on public display at Seattle Public Central Library (downtown) until April 17.

Imagine. William Shakespeare’s most significant works never being saved or published. No Julius Caesar nor Macbeth.Taming of the Shrew, lost. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, vanished. Eighteen plays never seeing the light of day.

Thankfully, in 1623 the Bard’s most faithful supporters published First Folio: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, ensuring that his plays lived on and, unknown to them, shaped language and culture for centuries. Shakespeare died in 1616.

Now, First Folio is on public display at Seattle Public Central Library (downtown) until April 17.   The exhibit, First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, on tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library, is a national traveling exhibition organized by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 400th anniversary in 2016 of Shakespeare’s death.

The folio is opened to one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies, from Hamlet, “To be or not to be.”  The printing of the book itself was an extraordinary technological feat.  Though printing was developed in the 1400s, it took nearly a century for it to spread across the channel to England, where in 1623 quality paper was still imported from France.  The typesetting and printing process of the 900-page folio took over a year, with proofreading and corrections being done while printing was taking place.  The book is unique in that different copies have different typographical errors.

It is thought that First Folio sold for the equivalent of $250 upon its release.  A single volume today (there are 234 surviving copies) is worth as much as $10 million.

For information about the exhibit, visit First Folio at Seattle Public Library.

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Stephen Hegg

Stephen is a 25-year veteran of KCTS, producing a wide range of cultural and public affairs series, documentaries and arts programming.  His credits include PIE, Something in the Water  (PBS feature on Seattle’s indie music scene), the gala opening of Benaroya Hall, and documentaries on Asahel and Edward Curtis, Dan Sullivan and Doris Chase.  Seattle-born, Hegg is a graduate of Whitworth University and is also an accomplished violinist and avid cyclist.

More stories by Stephen Hegg