Celebration by the Folger Shakespeare Library ~ Bringing the First Folio to All 50 States
2016 is truly the year for Shakespeare, around the globe, as this is the 400th anniversary of his death on April 23, 1616. Remember that Will was a working (hard-working and financially successful) actor ~ a player ~ and his exit stage right was far too soon at age 52, though a relatively young death from a variety of illnesses or infections (including plague) was not uncommon in 16th- and 17th-Century London.
But it was the year 1623 before the First Folio was put together, collecting and literally saving ~ for then and now ~ almost all of his plays, 18 of which had never been printed. We owe the preservation of Will’s work to two of his fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, who carefully oversaw the publication. Without them, we would have never known many of our favorite plays. It would have been a world devoid of As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night and more. (How different high school would be!!)
Edward Blount and William Jaggard joined the two actors in the formidable project, and Jaggard’s son Isaac did the printing of the some 1,000 copies (Britannica.com estimate) or perhaps only 750 original copies (Folger.edu). Of the surviving 233, the Folger Library possesses 82. During 2016, one location in each of the 50 U.S. states will host one of these folios. Find the schedule at Folger.edu.
Heminge (numerous spellings) and Condell organized the plays into Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. Why did they undertake this “care and pain”?
“We have collected them…without ambition either of self-profit, or fame: only to keep the memory of so worthy a Friend & Fellow alive, as was our Shakespeare…”
Note the “our Shakespeare.” If you have ever watched British comedies (or other shows), you will probably recognize the term as one of personal affection, such as regarding a family member or close associate. In Open All Hours, it was always, “our Granville.” These men had spent many years of their lives, day upon long day, rehearsing, performing, and traveling with William Shakespeare. Along with the famous dramatic actor, Richard Burbage, another member of the company called Lord Chamberlain’s Men ~ later King’s Men ~ Heminge and Condell were named in Shakespeare’s will. They were more than colleagues ~ they were nearly-lifelong friends. They wished that Shakespeare (yes, the real guy from Stratford-upon-Avon, the one they knew extremely well) could have lived to oversee his own writings, but, “to the Great Variety of Readers,” they wrote:
“…we pray you do not envy his Friends, the office of their care, and pain, to have collected & published them [the plays]…before you were abused with diverse stolen, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealths of injurious impostors…”
Such a carefully edited collection, overseen by those who knew the originals firsthand, was imperative to save the life’s work of William Shakespeare ~ and their own lives’ work as actors.
Thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, DC), we can all go online and read the original ourselves! Go here: http://www.folger.edu/the-shakespeare-first-folio-folger-copy-no-68#page/To+the+Reader/mode/2up and read it yourself. It’s wonderful! And you’ll get the hang of it fairly quickly. An s looks like a scrolly f. An f adds a short crossbar. An i can be a j, or y, or i.
If you live in or near Texas, the privilege of hosting the Folio was won by Texas A&M. Go here for their schedule: http://lonestarfolio.tamu.edu/
Look around wherever you live because there is lots going on to honor the Great Bard!