In honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and in celebration of his life’s work, the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester is hosting events around the display of Shakespeare’s “First Folio,” published in 1623.
UNH and St. Anselm College are both holding events in relation to the First Folio’s display in New Hampshire, as are a few other surrounding town libraries. These are intended to educate people of various ages about the works of Shakespeare and to commemorate his life in creative, fun ways. UNH has lovingly entitled this series of events “Shakespeare at the Quad.”
Events include lectures, film showings, musical performances, recitations, exhibits, art activities for families, play performances for families, panel and professor discussions, readings, trivia, adult coloring projects, open mic nights, contests, social-media friendly photo taking opportunities, cooking, writing and handwriting, raffles and book sales, acting and teaching workshops, and an annual tradition of celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday at St. Anselms College. All of the events are free and open to the public, though some of the museum’s exhibits presented near or with the First Folio are not.
Gary Bouchard, professor at St. Anselms College, said in regards of the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday, “I brought the sonnet reading marathon with me from Loyola University in Chicago where I went to graduate school. Sadly, I don’t think it still happens there. I commenced it here in 1988 and many magical things have happened since. Always outdoors if weather permits. Many alums return for the occasion, some bring classes of students they are teaching presently in middle school, high school or grade school. The youngest reader is often 6 or 7, the oldest well into his or her 80s. Some really practiced readers, some singers, some always who are daring it for the first time. All readers get a special sonnet reader button with the date.”
Yvonne Loomis said she represents Manchester City Library “in the ad hoc group of librarians unofficially named “Shakespeare Cometh” that is a part of the Greater Manchester Integrated Library Cooperative System (GMILCS) library consortium here in southern New Hampshire. It was at one of these meetings during the open discussion that a librarian mentioned the First Folio exhibit and how it was coming to New Hampshire! Not Massachusetts or Maine or Vermont, but to the Currier in New Hampshire! Very exciting for us literary creatures and the Currier Museum is well within the driving range of our GMILCs library patrons. We felt that we had to do something special to mark this literary event.”
Rusyln Vear of Amherst Town Library said, “We love to coordinate with area events of importance to enhance and enrich the experience for our community.”
Having the First Folio in a New Hampshire museum at all, according to the Currier Museum of Art website, “was made possible with support from New Hampshire Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities.” These events began in February and run through mid to late April.
Meghan Petersen, of the Currier Museum of Art, said of the First Folio exhibit, “Because of the short time frame of the exhibit, the folio will be opened only to the one page [Hamlet’s soliloquy] for the duration of the installation.”
According to Susan Brown of the Derry Public Library, “This particular exhibit is important because it’s the only NH location.”
“Like many libraries in the area, we offer passes [to the Currier] to our patrons. There is a wonderful, organic connection between the arts and literature and libraries and museums. It goes without saying that our programs, events and exhibits naturally go hand in hand,” said Sandy Whipple of the Goffstown Library.
Loomis added that amongst other things, “Our children’s librarian, Karyn Isleb, visits the Museum once a month for a special storytime series called Storytime in the Gallery.”
“We also have several Amherst residents that volunteer as docents (and volunteer on special projects) at the Museum. We love art in our midst!” said Vear.
In fact, if not for the First Folio, none of us would know any of Shakespeare’s plays.
Douglas Lanier, professor of English, director of the London program at UNH and published scholar of Shakespeare, said, “The Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s works. It collects 36 of his 38 plays and 18 of those had never appeared before in writing. So without it we would have a very different idea of Shakespeare.”
According to Petersen, “The First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, which subsequently established Shakespeare’s canon. The publication is our only source for eighteen plays that had not previously appeared in print, among them “The Tempest,” “Measure for Measure,” “Macbeth,” “Twelfth Night,” and “As You Like It.” In much the way we are interested in the provenance, or ownership history of a work of art, the individual copies of the First Folio have complex ownership histories of their own and through that record we can learn a great deal about the reception of Shakespeare’s work over time. Additionally, and this is particularly interesting for us at the Currier, the First Folio preserves one of the only likenesses of Shakespeare himself.”
Whipple said, “Without it, Shakespeare’s enduring words and works might have been lost to the generations that followed. His continued relevance and influence can be seen and heard on an everyday basis, from phrases and figures of speech to popular movie adaptations and beyond. To have the opportunity to feast our eyes on this historical document is monumental.”
“Because it’s in the folio format, a larger book format, it sent the message of the importance of the material… That in itself was significant. The kinds of things that would have been put in folio format were royal documents, classical editions would appear in a folio, things that had stood the test of time. It established him as an important English writer,” said Lanier. He added, “There have been plays that have been utterly lost to time. What we have from the past is just the smallest chunk of what was available then.”
“To me the significance of the folio is that because these works of Shakespeare were preserved. I have star-crossed lovers, treacherous villains, and murderous princes running around in my imagination. There is also, in the end, the hope for redemption and reconciliation for Shakespeare’s characters and perhaps for us all?” said Loomis.
Shakespeare has become a cultural icon for many of the past generations, so enjoy the local Shakespearian events this spring season.