May 23, 2024
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St. John’s College to host Shakespeare’s first folio exhibition in 2016

ShakespeareThe Folger Shakespeare Library announces 52 host sites across the country for a traveling exhibit to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. St. John’s College has been selected as the host site for the state of Maryland for “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare,” a national traveling exhibition of the Shakespeare 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.

St. John’s College will partner with the Annapolis Shakespeare Company to offer live, professional Shakespeare performances, educational workshops, and a variety of activities for the public. The Maryland Humanities Council will use its statewide reach and broad network of connections to publicize the exhibition and its programs.

The First Folio will be on view at the Mitchell Gallery at St. John’s College. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2012 and dedicated to bringing art of world renown to Annapolis since it opened in 1989, the Mitchell Gallery attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year to its museum-quality exhibits which range in theme and diversity.

“We are honored to have been selected as one of the institutions to help share this extraordinary part of the world’s cultural heritage from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection,” said St. John’s College Library Director Catherine Dixon. “This is an incredible opportunity for many people to come within inches of one of the most influential books in history.”

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 Shakespeare’s death. Two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors compiled 36 of his plays, hoping to preserve them for future generations. Without it, we would not have 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including “Macbeth,” “Julius Caesar,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Tempest,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “The Comedy of Errors,” and “As You Like It.” All 18 appear for the first time in print in the First Folio, and would otherwise have been lost.

“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 Library. “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, California to Gurabo, Puerto Rico, from Eugene, Oregon to Duluth, Minnesota.”

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 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. It originally sold for one British pound (20 shillings)—about $200 today.

When the First Folio arrives at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, its pages will be opened to 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, St. John’s College and the Annapolis Shakespeare Company will host numerous public programs around the First Folio exhibition.

Final touring dates for “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare” 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 and Vinton and Sigrid Cerf. Sponsorship opportunities of this major exhibition and the Folger’s other “Wonder of Will” programs commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death are available; learn more at

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