What’s So Exciting About the First Folio?

–submitted by Dave Mollenhoff; photo by Mike Engelberger

“It’s the book that gave us Shakespeare,” explained Joshua Calhoun in a spirited talk to the club.  “Just imagine,” continued Calhoun, an assistant professor of English at the UW Madison, “When Shakespeare died 400 years ago, only half of his 36 plays had been printed.”  Without the First Folio we would never have known the Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, the Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, MacBeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.  Happily, all of these and several more were published in 1623 in one of the most famous books ever printed.  And what a book it was!  Four pounds, 900 pages, 2 inches thick and about 13 inches high and 9 inches wide.  And expensive!  In today’s dollars, it would have cost at least $250.  Only 750 were printed and about 250 survive.

This rare book is the centerpiece of an exhibit at the Chazen and will be on display until December 11.  Accompanying the book is a thoughtfully-curated exhibit entitled “The Globe’s Global in Shakespeare’s time.”  The exhibit has triggered a great surge of interest throughout Wisconsin.

Calhoun delights in getting his students to contrast today’s media and technology with Shakespeare’s.  “It’s about the power of words,” concluded Calhoun.  “It’s about what makes us human.”

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video here.

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