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  • Teaching Shakespeare’s First Folio and the Instability of the Text
  • Michael LoMonico (bio)

“Read him therefore, and againe and againe. And then if you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him.”

—John Heminge and Henrie Condell, from “To the great Variety of Readers” in the introductory material to the First Folio

In late February 2015, the Folger Shakespeare Library announced the locations for a traveling exhibition, “First Folio: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.” The link, posted on Facebook, listed the 52 sites (one per state as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico) that would host an exhibition of a copy of the First Folio during 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Within two days, there was an incredible flurry of activity in response to the posting, with nearly 200 Comments, about 3,000 Likes, and 1,500 Shares. Pretty amazing, I thought, but it was especially the excitement in the comments section that made me realize that this book was important to so many people—people beyond the scholars in the Reading Room at the Folger. A few of the comments are typical of the rest:

  • • “Man, I have to go 100+ miles to see it? So be it.”

  • • “I’ll have to go to Providence, Rhode Island, to see it—it’s so close! What an experience & privilege!”

  • • “It’s coming to little ol’ nowhere Vermillion, South Dakota!”

  • • “Yet another reason to relocate to Tucson by next year!”

  • • “Yay! If I can make it out there, I’ll visit the Folio in Amherst!”

  • • “What a pleasure! I have a facsimile copy, but seeing the real thing is a dream. I hope it has an aroma.”

  • • “Yippee! I wonder how many copies I will get to see.”

  • • “Wilmington is one of the cities scheduled. Yay.”

  • • “Conway Arkansas!!! Yeah!”

  • • “So excited a First Folio will be coming to Emory’s Carlos Museum in Atlanta!” [End Page 148]

  • • “It’s time to plan a 2016 road trip.”

  • • “Finally, I’ll get to see one. It’s been on my bucket list for some time.”

Such anticipation has not gone unrewarded. As of this writing, the First Folios have already traveled to half the sites and have been celebrated with all sorts of fun: a Madrigal Dinner in Wheeling, West Virginia; a talk about Shakespeare’s role in Emily Dickinson’s life in Amherst, Massachusetts; translations of Hamlet’s “To be” speech into Lakota in Vermillion, South Dakota; a translation into Hawaiian in Honolulu; and a Jazz Funeral in New Orleans. It has already been, it is an understatement to say, an exciting tour.

Beyond joining the celebrations of the First Folio tour, my purpose here is to discuss our role as teachers in bringing students right up close to this inspiring book, this source of so much history and knowledge and work and interest. Classroom activities with the First Folio work on two main fronts: teaching literacy skills, or the disciplinary skills and habits of the field of English; and immersing students in the content and book itself—and to the wide world of Shakespeare. As such, we should stress in how we orient our students the human side to literary study. I have seen the effect firsthand, for the First Folio tour has provided me the occasion, as Senior Consultant on National Education for the Folger Library, to talk with fellow teachers and students across the country. What follows here, then, is meant to capture how I have approached and given those talks. In particular, I shall focus on teaching Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet by comparing the First Folio text with the earlier quarto texts, but the techniques that I shall use can be applied to any of the 18 plays that have quarto editions.

Basic Facts about the First Folio for Town and Gown

What is it, exactly, about the First Folio that gets everyone so excited? Sure, it is old, and, sure, it is worth a lot of money (one was sold for more than $6 million in 2001 [First Folio Teaches Teachers]), but it has to be more than age and value...


Additional Information

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pp. 148-164
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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