The home for the most extensive collection of Shakespearean in the world wanted to do something special to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, something that had never been done, something that could only be done by the Folger Shakespeare Library with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and others. So they decided to send copies of the 1623 First Folio on tour to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Published seven years after his death in 1616, this monumental volume was assembled from plays owned by the company of actors Shakespeare worked with, especially two of his friends, and printed in his memory. Of the 233 copies of the First Folio that survive today, 82 are in the Folger Library in Washington, D.C. One of those rare volumes will be arriving this spring in Honolulu where Kapi‘olani Community College is serving as Hawai‘i’s sole host site.
William Shakespeare’s First Folio—the first collected edition of his plays and one of the world’s most influential books—will be on display at Kapi‘olani Community College’s Lama Library from April 25 through May 25, 2016. During and leading up to the month-long exhibition of First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, the College will host speakers, workshops for teachers, a special Shakespeare Comes to Hawai‘i exhibit, and more. Kapi‘olani collaborated with several community partners, including the Hawai‘i branch of the English-Speaking Union, the Hawai‘i State Library and the Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival, to offer a range of activities.
“One of our goals is to alert people to Shakespeare-related events taking place in our local community,” said Hawai‘i First Folio project director Mark Lawhorn, “and that is why you can find an extensive calendar of performances and other activities on our Web site. I expect some folks to be pleasantly surprised when they see how many opportunities there are on O‘ahu to engage with the Bard.”
Off campus, for example, productions of Shakespeare’s plays will be staged at Leeward Community College (Richard III), Hawai‘i Pacific University (Much Ado About Nothing), and the Hawai‘i Theatre (Othello). A production of As You Like It in London’s National Theatre Live series will screen at Kahala Cinema in mid-March.
Valerie Wayne, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Professor Emerita of English, reminds us that one does not have to worship Shakespeare to recognize ways that his work is culturally and historically significant. For Professor Wayne, “Shakespeare doesn’t matter because he’s a monument to be preserved or a genius to which we’re obligated to pay homage in order to maintain a cultured society; or because he has ‘universal’ appeal or wisdom to impart. He matters because, given his iconic status, he is constantly being restaged and rethought and remade into someone who speaks to our present moment.”
The hefty volume includes 36 Shakespeare plays. Eighteen of them, including Julius Caesar,Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night, would probably have been lost without the creation of the First Folio. If these plays had been lost, what titles would have graced William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood and By the Pricking of My Thumbs, and Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale?
The Folger will send out a total of 18 First Folios across the United States. Some of them will make multiple stops so that every state will host a First Folio at some point during the tour. Kapi‘olani Community College will serve as the host site for Hawai‘i and is the only community college in the country where the First Folio will be on display. The exhibit locations include 23 museums, 20 universities, five public libraries, three historical societies, and a theater. The complete list of host sites and tour dates is available on the Folger’s website.
The First Folio will be opened to the most quoted line from Shakespeare, “to be or not to be” from Hamlet. Accompanying the book will be a six-panel exhibition exploring Shakespeare’s impact, then and now, along with interactive, digital activities.
Multiple translations of Hamlet’s most famous speech will be on display, including a rendering of the speech into Hawaiian by Professor Puakea Nogelmeier, who pointed out “for the sake of humor” when asked to attempt the daunting task, “There is no term for “to be” in Hawaiian.” (click to hear recording of “to be or not to be” speech in Hawaiian)
Are you curious about whether any Shakespeare materials ever appeared in Hawaiian language newspapers during the nineteenth century? Ever wonder if Shakespeare productions took place here during WWII? Like to know what was going on in Honolulu during the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death? Come to Lama Library this spring when a few significant moments in the history of Shakespeare in Hawai‘i will be featured in the library lobby’s Shakespeare Comes to Hawai‘i exhibit to be presented concurrently with First Folio! on the library’s second floor.
“We hope,” says Professor Lawhorn, “that many students in the community have a chance, whether by taking part in a school-sponsored field trip or by coming to the exhibit during after school hours, to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view this special 393-year-old book. But this rare moment is not just for students. Everyone is welcome and exhibition hours have been set up to make it easier for people to get here after work Monday through Thursday or on Saturday.”
First Folio!: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare exhibition runs from April 25 through May 25, 2016 in Lama Library (second floor) concurrently with Shakespeare Comes to Hawai‘i exhibit (first floor lobby).
For more information, click here.
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