Ben Jonson, himself a renowned writer, said William Shakespeare “was not of an age, but for all time.” Shakespeare’s legacy was preserved in part because of the publication of a collection of his works in 1623, seven years after his death. One of the original copies of that collection, now known as the First Folio, will be on display at the University of South Carolina this month.
“Having a First Folio come to Columbia provides an exciting opportunity to bring Shakespeare to life for a South Carolina audience,” said USC Dean of Libraries Tom McNally.
Only 235 original copies of the First Folio are known to remain in existence, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, based in Washington, D.C., is taking 19 of them on tour this year, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. USC faculty began work two years ago to make the campus one of the tour stops.
“There was no guarantee that the state of South Carolina would have a First Folio,” McNally said. “For a lot of people, this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see one.”
The rare book will be on public display in the Brittain Gallery of the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library from April 14-30. Elizabeth Sudduth, director of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Hollings Library, said those dates were USC’s first choice because the time frame includes the date of Shakespeare’s death, April 23. The Bard’s date of birth is unknown, and also celebrated on that day.
“That’s really quite an honor,” Sudduth said. She added that the exhibition is “about introducing Shakespeare and sharing Shakespeare with people of all ages, not just the academic community.” With that goal in mind, the USC faculty and student body will present several events in addition to the exhibition.
The USC Department of Theatre and Dance will present Shakespeare’s The Tempest April 15-23. The last three performances will be preceded by “The Gravedigger’s Tale,” an interactive and family-friendly free show created by USC Professor Robert Richmond to introduce Hamlet to all ages. The library display also includes many Shakespeare-related documents owned by USC and rarely available for public view.
USC will also throw a party called “Jukebox Shakespeare” on April 23. The free event on the lawn outside Thomas Cooper Library will feature student groups performing well-known scenes from many of Shakespeare’s plays.
Nina Levine, chairman of the university’s English department and a Shakespeare scholar, said the First Folio’s importance is hard to overstate. “If the Folio had not been printed, we would not have 18 of Shakespeare’s plays” including Macbeth, she said. “This is the moment of Shakespeare becoming this icon. 1623 is the moment when that happened.”
A complete schedule of viewing times for the First Folio and the events scheduled to celebrate its arrival in Columbia is available here.