SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - One of the world’s most valuable books - a 17th-century collection of Shakespeare’s plays - will be on display in South Dakota in March as part of a yearlong commemoration of the 400th anniversary of his death.
The “First Folio” of William Shakespeare is the centerpiece of a traveling exhibit that the National Music Museum in Vermillion will host for a month. The museum and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Dakota have partnered in this effort that will also include concerts, movie screenings, lectures and other events about the world’s pre-eminent dramatist.
Shakespeare wrote at least 38 plays, some of which were published in small books before his death in 1616. After his passing, two of his friends who wanted to preserve his works gave 36 plays to two publishers to compile. Half of the plays in the book, which was completed in 1623, hadn’t been published before.
“If his friends hadn’t gotten together and put this book together, arranged for the publisher to print it and everything, we wouldn’t have copies of plays like ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra.’ … So, part of what makes this book really, really important is it gives us half of Shakespeare’s plays that we otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s a pretty big deal,” said Darlene Farabee, chairwoman of USD’s English department.
The book, along with the traveling exhibit, will be in Vermillion on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., which owns 82 of the 233 surviving copies of “First Folio.” During its stay in South Dakota, the book will be open to the page showing Hamlet’s famed “To be or not to be” soliloquy, said museum spokeswoman Patricia Bornhofen.
One site in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico was chosen to host the traveling exhibit for a month in 2016.
Among the Vermillion activities will be a free concert by the group Ayreheart, which will perform music composed by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, as well as a screening of the Oscar-winning movie “Shakespeare in Love.”
The university will also host a symposium that will include presentations on the teaching of Shakespeare in Native American schools, research on 19th-century South Dakota productions of Shakespeare plays and the translation of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy into Lakota.
Researchers believe that about 750 “First Folio” books were printed, and they have been a coveted item for centuries. Henry Clay Folger, the president and later chairman of Standard Oil of New York in the early 20th century, collected the 82 versions now owned by the library that bears his last name. Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder, paid about $6 million for one and another sold for $5.2 million in 2006 at an auction in London.
Bornhofen said the version coming to South Dakota will be showcased along with some musical instruments from the museum’s collection.
“We’ll put out four or five instruments that are contemporaneous with Shakespeare and his plays,” Bornhofen said. “They will sort of provide the historical context on the arts environment that would have been present in Shakespeare’s time.”
Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO
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