No, I’m not stuttering. This past summer I had the joy of laying eyes on a real, live First Folio.
First of all, what a magnificent building the library occupies. Majestic. Beautiful. Startling, from top to bottom, in its graceful, elegant design.
Shakespeare exhibits were located on the first and third floors of the library. Part of the first floor display was a Fourth Folio (below), not as valuable or important as a First Folio, but important in establishing the canon as it exists today.
I presented my ticket (obtained at no cost via an online reservation) and was shown into the “holy of holies,” a small room where the First Folio was kept under glass and with an armed guard nearby. I was told going in not to lean on or touch the plexiglass case. So, of course, the first thing I did was touch the plexiglass case–and the guard was quick to correct me. Fortunately I didn’t get kicked out. Unfortunately, photos of the First Folio were not allowed. It was opened to Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy, the “To be or not to be” passage in Hamlet. I took the time to read the entire soliloquy aloud (no one else was nearby); the four-hundred-year-old print was perfectly legible (though the misspelling of “than” as “then” stood out to me!). What an experience.
I spent just short of ninety minutes in all, perusing the many volumes and informative displays, including a 1647 volume of Fletcher and Beaumont’s Comedies and Tragedies, opened to the title page of The Woman’s Prize or The Tamer Tamed, Fletcher’s sequel to The Taming of the Shrew. Amazing.
While no one pointed me out as the author of the soon-to-be-released The Bard and the Bible, I’m sure they knew. Nonetheless, it was a delight to read Hamlet from a text that (though no one could tell me the Folger number of that particular Folio) was printed a mere seven years after the Bard died, and no more than a quarter century after Hamlet was written. “Such stuff as dreams are made on.”