Shakespeare’s First Folio! is touring the United States this year, celebrating 400 years of William Shakespeare. This educational odyssey is thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library, which maintains the largest collection of First Folios (82, in case you were curious).
When we discovered that the First Folio was coming to Arizona, we had to go! So on a typically sunny Tucson day, we headed out to the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona to check it out.
The First Folio was protected in a plexiglass box and was opened to the “To be, or not to be” section of Hamlet.
Hallowed words right there!
According to The Collation, early modern texts often used the long s, as seen in “that is the Question.” A long s was used if the s occurred in the beginning or middle of the word. A regular s was used at the end of the word. Similar rules apply for u/v and i/j. (See The Collation for more.)
The docent at the exhibit, Jessalyn, was very friendly and informative. She greeted us with a laminated copy of the print below:Jessalyn explained that typesetters working in printers’ workshops kept capital letters in the upper case and little letters in the lower case. Hence, they reached into the upper case to procure uppercase letters and lower case to retrieve lowercase letters. The terms evolved from there. A handy bit of trivia!
Jessalyn also pointed out that there were no computers and no word processing software during those times, hence they had to do things manually, including estimating the spacing of the letters and paragraphs. Many works produced by the printers’ workshops get a little disorderly in the middle. An example can illustrate the reason for this:
When they worked on a sheet, the left side was page 1 and the right side was page 10, so they had to give their best guess as to how far to set the letters apart from each other. When they got to the middle, pages 5 and 6 in the example, they often either had too little or too much space. In the case of too little space, the typesetters were forced to cram the letters together. In the case of too much space, they often filled the empty space with elaborate decorations.
Shakespeare composed 38 plays during his lifetime. Thirty-six of those were compiled after his death and published in the First Folio in 1623 by two actors who appeared in his plays, James Heminges and Henry Condell. If these two men had not published the First Folio, the 18 highlighted above would have been lost forever.
There are several phrases Shakespeare invented that are now common phrases we use today. A sampling includes “be it as it may” and “forgone conclusion.” For more, check out the word bubble above.
Another thing Jessalyn noted was that English settlers arriving in America from the 1600’s all the way through the 1800’s often only had two books with them: the Bible and a copy of Shakespeare’s Folio. It is said that these two books provided the basis of all new books in English since then.
As a writer, I was so happy to get the chance to view the First Folio in person! It was a great privilege. Thank you to the Folger Shakespeare Library and the University of Arizona for making this happen!
I want to end with a little story.
As we were leaving the museum, we heard the museums workers saying, “Here come the Rhodes Scholars.” My eyebrows went up as I saw a large group of seniors piling into the museum.
It turns out this group was from Road Scholar. According to their website, “Road Scholar educational adventures are created by Elderhostel, the not-for-profit world leader in lifelong learning since 1975.” I had heard of many travel groups like Viking River Cruises and Smithsonian Journeys, but this was the first I had heard of this group. Here is a list of the trips they feature in Arizona. Definitely something to consider for future trips.
I hope you learned something new by reading this. Happy Wednesday everyone. As usual, I welcome your comments below!