People were still pouring into the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library late Wednesday afternoon, seeking one last view of the rare copy of the first book publishing William Shakespeare’s plays before the exhibit closed at 7 p.m.
When Shakespeare died in 1616, only about half of his plays had been printed in small, one-play editions called quartos. Another 18 plays are known today only because they were included in the “First Folio,” published by his friends seven years later; without it, they would probably have been lost.
The exhibit, which opened Oct. 1, and events planned around it have been very well-attended, said Carla Lee, interim senior director of the Harrison-Small Research Center. More than 1,800 visitors came to peer at the large volume, including high school groups and families – a great turnout for an exhibit, Lee said.
Those who attended a special “Family Day” stayed for hours, she said, and participated in activities that included making Shakespearean-era props and hearing recitations of the compliments and insults he used in his plays.
UVA was the only place in Virginia to host the collection of The Bard’s plays – one of the most famous books in the world – as part of the Folger Shakespeare Library Association’s national traveling exhibition, “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare.”
The book was opened to the play “The Tragedie of Hamlet,” and the most-quoted line from Shakespeare, “To be or not to be?”
Four copies of the folio – which English professor Katharine Maus called “priceless” – are circulating this year to all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. For security reasons, the book comes with its own display case.
On Thursday, a representative from the Folger Library will oversee the dismantling of the exhibit and see that it is handled carefully before chaperoning it to the next stop. Lee said library staff don’t know where this copy of the folio went before it came to the Grounds and don’t know where it will go next – again, for security reasons.
The UVA Special Collections Library’s accompanying exhibition of its own notable holdings, “Shakespeare By the Book,” will remain on display through the end of the year. The library had extended hours for viewing the folio; it now returns to its regular hours.