Drew University will host rare First Folio in an exclusive exhibition in partnership with The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

Shakespeare First Folio, 1623. Folger Shakespeare Library.
Shakespeare First Folio, 1623. Folger Shakespeare Library.A rare original printing of the first collected edition of the plays of William Shakespeare will be exhibited in October 2016 at Drew University in Madison. Referred to as the First Folio, the work is one of the most important and valuable books printed in English. Drew was selected in a highly competitive process as the sole New Jersey location to exhibit the First Folio.

The national traveling exhibition, First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, which is jointly organized by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the American Library Association, will mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The First Folio will be exhibited at 53 sites—one location in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each site will host the exhibit for a month.

The First Folio is the earliest published collection of Shakespeare’s plays, and was compiled by two of his actors in 1623. Only about 800 copies of the First Folio were printed about nine years after Shakespeare’s death, and a mere 233 copies are known to have survived. The First Folio represents the first time that Shakespeare’s greatest and most treasured works, including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors and As You Like It, were published as a single collection.

The First Folio exhibition at Drew is organized in partnership with The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and will be accompanied by performances, seminars and lectures for the public. While on display at Drew, in the Wendel Room in Mead Hall, the First Folio will be open to Hamlet’s famous line “to be or not to be,” the opening verse of one of Shakespeare’s most quoted soliloquies. As part of the exhibit, Hamlet will be performed in the Kean Theatre by Drew’s nationally ranked Department of Theatre and Dance.

Drew will also showcase the First Folio for local students and host seminars and lectures featuring Drew faculty experts. A companion exhibit of rare books contemporary to the First Folio, drawn from Drew’s own collection, will also help visitors understand the First Folio in the context of the tumultuous world of the English Reformation in which Shakespeare lived and wrote.

“This is a tremendous honor for Drew and a wonderful opportunity for our students and the community,” said President MaryAnn Baenninger. “We are thrilled to welcome audiences near and far to performances by The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on Drew’s campus.”

Bonnie J. Monte, artistic director of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey said: “Co-hosting the presentation of one of the world’s most treasured cultural artifacts is a great honor and a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the theatre, Drew University and our greater community. In tandem with and in celebration of the Folio’s month-long residency, The Shakespeare Theatre will produce one of Shakespeare’s greatest masterpieces on our Main Stage, which will include numerous student matinee performances featuring tours of the Folio exhibit and post-show discussions with our company of artists.”

“The 36 plays preserved in this ancient book have for centuries helped us to understand, even to define, what it means to be human,” said Chris Ceraso, who chairs Drew’s Department of Theatre and Dance, and who authored Drew’s application to host the First Folio. “To have the book itself, and the accompanying exhibit, housed for a time on our campus, is not just a prestigious honor, but also the perfect embodiment of the liberal arts mission, especially when paired with the performance mission of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.”