You can’t really judge a book by its cover, but when you take a look at the large, hardcover, 900-page book sitting under an alarmed, glass case inside the Kansas City Public Library’s Missouri Valley Room, you immediately get the impression you are viewing literary history.

That’s because you are. On June 6, the centerpiece of the Library’s Show Me Shakespeare 2016 celebration went on public display. Shakespeare’s First Folio, published in 1623, is the first published edition of William Shakespeare’s 36 plays, half of which were never previously published. The First Folio is known as the book that gave us Shakespeare, and it was on display at the Central Library through Tuesday, June 28.

Shakespeare's First Folio

The book is one of 18 Folios on tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., making just one stop in each state. The Kansas City Public Library was selected as the Missouri location, beating out all other statewide applicants.

The First Folio is incredibly important to literature because, without it, 18 of Shakespeare’s popular plays would have been lost. Some of his most well-known works such as “Macbeth”, “Julius Caesar”, and “Twelfth Night”, among others, had never been published in earlier, quarto form.

It isn’t only the rare book that visitors are able to see. The Kansas City Public Library is known for its world-class programming, which continued as part of Show Me Shakespeare 2016. Patrons have taken in presentations by internationally renowned Shakespeare experts, a Shakespeare Family Day, a discussion on Hip Hop and the Bard, a special presentation of the Library’s Meet the Past series starring  William Shakespeare himself (as portrayed by actor Mark Robbins), and many performances of  Shakespeare’s work.

Shakespeare's First Folio

Hors d’oeuvres from Caroline Bicks’ and Michelle Ephraim’s book Shakespeare, Not Stirred were served at the opening night reception, for donors and partners on June 6. Bicks gave a lively presentation for the 120 attendees.                                    

Patrons line up to see the First Folio, encased in glass, and  have their questions answered by a docent from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Fifteen students from UMKC took a specially designed, for-credit course to prepare them to serve as docents. The Library is the only venue on the Folio’s nationwide tour to offer such a program.

When it comes to identifying a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, there is no one better than the University of Nevada at Reno’s Eric Rasmussen. He received the first phone call, in 2014, when librarians in northern France wanted to verify whether their centuries-old book of Shakespeare’s works might be one of the rare copies of the Folio. Incidentally, it was. On June 7, Rasmussen took a crowd of 300 in the Library’s Kirk Hall on a journey into what goes into tracking down and confirming a First Folio.

 Pop sonnets creator Erik Didriksen made a stop at the Library’s selfie station before speaking June 16. The station, which offers the Globe Theatre as a backdrop and a dozen Shakespearean quotes-on-a-stick to serve as thought balloons, has been a hit for First Folio visitors.

University of Kansas professor Nicole Hodges Persley led an engaged audience in a discussion of Shakespeare and Hip Hop. Persley used songs from  iconic hip hop artists Slick Rick, Ice Cube, and Jay Z to show how the artists’ writing style and performances are directly influenced by the Bard.

Visitors of all ages take a look at the folio while KCUR’s “Up to Date” with Steve Kraske broadcasts live in the background from the Missouri Valley Room on June 8.

Stage combat techniques were just one part of First Folio Family Fun Day, June 12 at the Central Library. Nearly 200 people attended. Kids of all ages learned how actors in Shakespeare’s plays perform sword fights. Other activities included Shakespeare Mad Libs, performing sonnets and scenes from some of the Bard’s most popular plays, and building catapults out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands.

Shakespeare's First Folio

Librarian Anna Francesca Garcia (dressed as Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) reads sonnets to a group of children and their families during the Library’s First Folio Family Fun Day.

Shakespeare's First Folio

Overall, response was phenomenal, as the Folio’s guestbook indicates:

  • “Thank you for making this available to the public! The library personnel were very informative. Bravo!” – Suzanne, Evanston, IL
  • “Very impressive and interesting. So glad our library got it. Thanks.” – Gladys & Jim, Kansas City, MO
  • “Fabulous. An English teacher’s dream.” – Lisa, Lakeland, FL

This once-in-a-lifetime exhibit came to a close on June 28, and thousands of visitors were been able to experience literary history. As the Bard himself said, “All’s well that ends well.”

Courtney Lewis is the Media Relations Coordinator for the Kansas City Public Library. A previous career as a TV news producer brought her to Kansas City from her native New England, but KC’S architecture, people, and food have kept her here. She will also always ask you what you are reading.

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