A Piece of Shakespearean History: The First Folio Visits Seattle

Seattle Shakespeare fans got to celebrate in the run-up to the Bard’s birthday (or deathday, if you’re the glass-half-empty sort) with the arrival of the First Folio at the Central Library.

An impressive gilt-edged tome of nine hundred pages, the first compilation of Shakespeare’s plays was opened to Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy.

The old book, housed this April at the contrastingly modern Central Library, is one of only 750 copies ever printed and only 233 surviving in the twenty-first century.

Because it was published in 1623, seven years after his death, Shakespeare never lived to see the landmark compendium—the first folio devoted exclusively to plays ever published in England.

His friends memorialized their colleague in style, collecting foul papers (drafts as penned by Shakespeare himself), quarto editions, and prompt books. William Jaggard, despite a history of misattributions and literary piracy involving Shakespeare’s own works, was entrusted with the project of setting the record straight. Though an apprentice appears to have introduced some distance with a few unusual renderings of the playwright’s text, the First Folio is the closest thing we have to the plays as the Bard wrote them.

Without the Folio, eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost to history, including Macbeth and Twelfth Night. It’s not hard to understand why copies are treasures; originally sold for approximately £1 (or roughly $200 today), the last copy to change hands sold for $5.2 million in 2006.

Seattle fans wave goodbye as the famous book makes its way around the country. If you missed it this time, don’t worry—you can still view the full book online as Shakespeare (more or less) intended.

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Outside The Seattle Public Library

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The First Folio open to “to be or not to be”

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Elizabethan-era replica costumes on display

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Aerial view of the First Folio exhibit