Bringing Shakespeare to Iowa

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John Culshaw, guest columnist

What’s your first memory of Shakespeare?

Whether you saw one of his plays on stage or read his work in school, you joined centuries of lives enriched by The Bard. Spinner of stories and master of verse, Shakespeare wrote of human emotions, troubles and triumphs in ways that stir us even today.

In 1623, seven years after his death, Shakespeare’s work as a playwright was documented, printed and published in a volume we now call the First Folio. Produced by his friends, the First Folio contains 18 of Shakespeare’s plays that would have been otherwise lost. Of the 750 volumes printed, researchers believe only 235 survive today, of which 82 are held by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

In this 400th year after his death, the Folger is sharing the First Folio with all 50 states in a national tour titled, “First Folio! The Book that Made Shakespeare.”

The University of Iowa Libraries is proud to host the First Folio for the state of Iowa, made possible by the new gallery space in our Main Library, funded in part by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust.

Our time with this rare volume almost is over; Sunday is the last day to view it. This Saturday, we’ll host a celebration at City Park’s Riverside Festival Stage, modeled after the Globe Theatre in London. There, we’ll hear the voices of Iowans reading scenes from Shakespeare’s plays.

The idea for a public reading of Shakespeare in the park has its roots planted firmly in Iowa soil. A century ago, in 1916, Iowa City celebrated the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death.

The world was at war and, as always, the arts were a healing salve. People gathered, donned Shakespearean costumes, and paraded to City Park to hear readings from Shakespeare’s plays. Sentiments ran high, as Shakespeare’s England, our ally, suffered horrible devastation.

So here we are in 2016, celebrating Shakespeare’s quatercentenary, and we have planned to gather again in City Park. Interesting, isn’t it, that a public theater-in-the-round now sits where Iowans observed Shakespeare’s last 100th anniversary?

We hope that by bringing Shakespeare to Iowa, we have helped inspire a new generation to appreciate a playwright and poet whose mastery of writing reveals the perspectives of multitudes and a marvelous understanding of humanity.

• John Culshaw is University Librarian for the University of Iowa Libraries. More information: shakespeare.lib.uiowa.edu

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