First Folio Arrives at Emory

William Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first published collection of his plays, has joined the Second, Third and Fourth Folios at Emory.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum opened the exhibition “The First Folio: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare,” which displays all four folios, Saturday, Nov. 5. The Second, Third and Fourth Folios, which were exhibited in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library from Aug. 29 to Oct. 28, moved to Carlos Museum once the First Folio arrived.

The Folger Shakespeare Library, the lender of the First Folio, selected only one site per U.S. state. Presenting any one of the folios is a rare opportunity — presenting all four folios simultaneously is even rarer, according to Sheila Cavanagh, professor of English.

On display, the First Folio is turned to Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. About 750 First Folios were printed in the 17th century, but only about 235 have survived. Carlos’s First Folio copy is on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library, which holds 82 copies. The Second and Third Folios are on loan from Rose Library benefactor Stuart Rose, and the Rose Library owns The Fourth Folio.

Although the First Folio is Shakespeare’s first major publication, the Third Folio is rarer because copies were lost in the 1666 Great Fire of London. The Second, Third and Fourth Folios contain more plays, include corrections to the First Folio and demonstrate Shakespeare’s progress as a playwright, according to Rose Library Director Rosemary Magee.

Cavanagh and Magee both acknowledged that this exhibit will help visitors understand Shakespeare’s impact on modern society. For example, some common expressions are derived from Shakespeare’s plays, including the phrase“heart of gold” and knock-knock jokes.

University President Claire E. Sterk spoke at the Nov. 4 preview for the exhibit, and Theater Emory performed a scene from The Boys from Syracuse, an adaptation from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, for Emory alumni guests.

“Those of you [who] know academia realize how special [hosting the First Folio] is,” Sterk said. “Those of who don’t live in academia, believe me, it’s really special.”

Preserving the documents requires special care. Ann Frellsen, collections conservator for the Robert W. Woodruff Library, explained to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the First Folio remained dormant for 24 hours after arriving at Emory to acclimate the document to the new environment.

The Fourth Folio underwent weekly maintenance: the pages would be turned to ensure that sunlight does not damage the folios.

The museum will also hold several Shakespeare-related events, including theater performances and a poetry reading.

“It would be selfish if we would keep all those wonderful activities to ourselves,” Sterk said. “So we have invited the broader community to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime moment.”

The exhibit will be on display until Dec. 11.

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