First Folio! Shakespeare's American Tour

Press Contacts:

Garland Scott, 202.675.0342

Esther French, 202.675.0326

The largest ever display of First Folios in one venue

Part of The Wonder of Will, the Folger’s celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare in 2016

On exhibit Nov 19, 2016 – Jan 22, 2017

Washington, DC— To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, the Folger Shakespeare Library sent First Folios to all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC. This exhibition celebrates their return to the Folger, and is the largest ever display of First Folios in a single venue. 
Everywhere the First Folios traveled, communities greeted them with excitement, honor, and pride, underscoring the deep connection they feel to Shakespeare and his plays—and illustrating his broad reach and relevance across American culture.
Forty-three thousand miles later, the 18 traveling copies of the First Folio (and one understudy) will be safely back in the Folger’s Great Hall. There, the First Folios tell their stories–of the half million people they met, the programming to celebrate their visits at each of the 52 tour stops, the unique attributes of each book, and the overwhelming relevance of the plays they include. 
The First Folio, which is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. John Heminge and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, compiled 36 of his plays, hoping to preserve them for future generations. Many of Shakespeare's plays, which were written to be performed, were not published during his lifetime. Without the First Folio, we would not have 18 of the 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.
Each of the First Folio travelers on display in the exhibition is opened to the title page of one of these 18 plays. On tour, these First Folios were opened to Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” speech; in this exhibition, the “understudy” copy will be open to that passage. 
The Folger holds 82 copies of the First Folio, by far the largest collection in the world and more than a third of the 235 known copies in the world today. Researchers believe that about 750 copies were originally printed. 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. 
The Folger organized this national tour, First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, in partnership with Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association. Each tour stop planned numerous programs for the public and families around the exhibition, from theater performances and concerts to a fashion show and a jazz funeral for Shakespeare.  
The tour began Jan. 4, 2016, at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman, Oklahoma, and will end Jan. 8, 2017, at the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. Since some of the First Folios are still on tour, their spots in First Folio! Shakespeare's American Tour are occupied by placeholder First Folios until they return home.
First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare was 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, The Lord Browne of Madingley, Vinton and Sigrid Cerf, British Council, Stuart and Mimi Rose, Albert and Shirley Small, and other generous donors.
Both the tour and the Folger exhibition are a part of The Wonder of Will, the Folger’s celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare.

Exhibition Highlights

  • The largest ever display of First Folios in one venue: 20 First Folios—the 18 books that traveled on tour, the “understudy” copy, and the First Folio on permanent display at the Folger
  • An interactive map of the First Folio tour
  • Photos from the 52 tour stops
  • An interactive “sophistication station,” which explores the common practice of collectors adding pages to incomplete First Folios
  • A textile map of the First Folios’ travel paths, created by artist Carrie Roy from wool and mulberry silk

About the Curators

Maribeth Cote is the Public Engagement Coordinator for First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare. She has spent the past two years advising and managing the 52 institutions hosting this touring exhibition. For First Folio! Shakespeare's American Tour, Maribeth curated stories, photographs, and videos documenting the experiences of the traveling First Folios and the people who came to see them. Maribeth has a MA in Public History from the Royal Holloway University of London and a BA in History from Franklin Pierce University.     
Caroline Duroselle-Melish is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She has worked with a wide range of collections in university and independent rare book libraries, including serving as Rare Book Librarian at the University of Rochester and, most recently, as Assistant Curator at the Houghton Library, Harvard University. She has published on a range of topics associated with early modern printing, including studies of Ulisse Aldrovandi’s library and the trade relations between Frankfurt and Bologna.
Heather Wolfe is curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She has curated numerous Folger exhibitions, most recently Shakespeare, Life of an Icon, and has written widely on early modern manuscripts and the intersections between print and manuscript. She has edited The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608 (2007), The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary (2007), and Letterwriting in Renaissance England (2004), an exhibition catalog co-written with Alan Stewart. She is principal investigator for EMMO (Early Modern Manuscripts Online), a project to create a free and searchable database of images and transcriptions of early modern manuscripts created in England or written in English.

Online Resources

The touring First Folios, up close
Each of the 18 First Folios that traveled around the U.S. received a tour nickname. Learn a little about each book and the places to which it went. See the full list
Shakespeare Unlimited
How was the First Folio made? How did it come to be such an important book? And how did the Folger manage to send 18 of its First Folios on the road? These questions and more are the subject of seven episodes—all about the First Folio—from the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast, produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library
- Find all seven episodes in this playlist on the Folger's Shakespeare & Beyond blog.
- More Shakespeare Unlimited episodes:

Visitor Services

The exhibition is open Monday through Thursday, Saturday, 10am – 5pm; Friday, 10am – 8pm; Sunday noon – 5pm. Admission is free.
Family Guide
A special exhibition guide is available for families.
Monday – Saturday at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm; Sunday at 12pm and 3pm
Folger docents offer guided tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger’s national landmark building, free of charge. No advance reservations required.
Wednesday at 12pm; Saturday at 2pm
Folger docents offer a special exhibition-focused tour, free of charge. No advance reservations required.
Group Tours
Docent-led tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger national landmark building, are offered for groups of 10 or more. To arrange, please call (202) 675-0395.

About the Folger

Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the ultimate resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world. The Folger welcomes millions of visitors online and in person. We provide unparalleled access to a huge array of resources, from original sources to modern interpretations. With the Folger, you can experience the power of performance, the wonder of exhibitions, and the excitement of pathbreaking research. We offer the opportunity to see and even work with early modern sources, driving discovery and transforming education for students of all ages. Shakespeare belongs to you. His world is vast. Come explore. Join us online, on the road, or in Washington, DC. 

Press Contacts:

Garland Scott, 202.675.0342

Esther French, 202.675.0326