Copy of first printed collection of Shakespeare's plays coming to University of Iowa

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Almost every junior high and high school English literature class includes at least one play by William Shakespeare, but without a single book, many of Shakespeare’s most famous plays may have been lost to history.

Now known as the “First Folio of Shakespeare,” this 1623 volume collected 36 of the Bard’s plays in one place, 18 of which had never been published before. Without it, plays like “Julius Caesar,” “Macbeth,” “As You Like It,” “The Tempest” and more might not be known today.

Iowans will have a chance to see “the book that gave us Shakespeare” this month, in an exhibit at the University of Iowa’s Main Library. On loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., the exhibit is part of a 50 state First Folio tour to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Greg Prickman is head of the UI’s Special Collections department, which is hosting the exhibit. He said the First Folio and other historic books that will be on display for the exhibition can help people connect with the history behind some of those most iconic works in the English language.

“Why bring a book like this to campus? It still works, people still respond to it. They want to see how his plays were put together. The interest never really wanes,” he said.

The First Folio itself will be in Iowa City Monday through Sept. 25, but UI staff have created a bigger exhibit to compliment it that will remain on display through Dec. 30 in the Main Library’s first floor gallery.

The exhibition includes rare and antique books from Special Collections, the John Martin Rare Book room in the UI Health Sciences Library and from private collector and UI College of Law Associate Dean Emeritus Arthur Bonfield.

Titled “The Books that Gave Us Shakespeare,” the exhibit shows off books like the First Folio that helped spread Shakespeare’s reputation after his death as well as books he would have used when researching his plays, along with other books printed in the same period as the First Folio.

UI associate English professor Adam Hooks teaches Shakespeare and book history at the university and helped create the exhibit.

“We use the materials to explain the ways printed books have made Shakespeare into the important figure everyone recognizes and how they shaped and reshaped our image of him,” he said.

The exhibit also includes early adaptations of Shakespeare’s works — just as the playwright’s words are re-imagined into modern settings today for movies like “10 Things I Hate About You,” which is based on “The Taming of the Shrew,” writers have been shortening, changing and adapting Shakespeare’s works for almost four centuries.

“Over time, his reputation as the iconic English author made his works more popular, whether in original or adopted forms,” Hooks said, adding his popularity has been helped by people’s willingness to adapt his work and develop a sense of ownership of it in different times and places.

“One of the things I hope this exhibit shows is there are a lot of other stories we can tell about Shakespeare other than the story of the First Folio,” he said. “The intent was not simply to show books from Shakespeare’s time.”

Departments around campus and other community groups have organized around 60 related events, everything from film screenings to theater and music performances to book club discussions to a presentation on how herbs and flowers would have been used in Shakespeare’s day.

The UI set up a website dedicated to the exhibit and related events at The website will remain up after the exhibit closes — organizers hope to digitize the exhibit and collect resources there. Hooks is also organizing a related conference for teachers and professors, “Teaching Shakespeare in Iowa,” and is leading a license-renewal-credit course of junior high and high school teachers who include Shakespeare in their curriculum.

All of this makes the exhibit about more than a single book, Prickman said.

“We’re able to highlight faculty work and spread the benefit not just to students but to a larger audience,” he said.


What: Exhibit grand opening: “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare”

Where: University of Iowa Main Library Gallery, 125 W. Washington St., Iowa City

When: 10 a.m. to noon Monday (8/29)

Extras: View the first folio and tour the exhibit.

What: Grand opening lecture, “The Past, Present, and Future of Shakespeare and the First Folio”

Where: University of Iowa Main Library Gallery, 125 W. Washington St., Iowa City

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Monday (8/29)

Extras: Dr. Adam Hooks, Shakespeare scholar and UI associate professor of English, will deliver a lecture about Shakespeare and the first folio.

What: Shakespearean Family Festival

Where: University of Iowa Main Library North Plaza, 125 W. Washington St., Iowa City

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 18

Extras: Celebrate the art of book making and other Shakespearean delights, featuring a lively cast of actors, artists, scholars, book makers and fencers. Roll up your sleeves for book art fun with paper making, book binding and more.

What: Dost Thou Speak Masterly? Iowa Reads Shakespeare

Where: Riverside Festival Stage, City Park, 200 E. Park Road, Iowa City

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 24

Extras: The public is invited to take the stage to do live readings of Shakespeare’s plays.

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