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Tucson's a stage for historic First Folio of Shakespeare
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Tucson's a stage for historic First Folio of Shakespeare

  • Shakespeare's First Folio, opened to a page of 'Hamlet,' is on display at the Arizona State Museum. This 393-year-old book is the center of the exhibit.
    Tirion Morris/TucsonSentinel.comShakespeare's First Folio, opened to a page of 'Hamlet,' is on display at the Arizona State Museum. This 393-year-old book is the center of the exhibit.
  • The Folio on display in Tucson.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comThe Folio on display in Tucson.
  • A book similar to the First Folio was created so visitors can touch and interact in a hands on way. The paper and binding is an exact replica of the original.
    Tirion Morris/TucsonSentinel.comA book similar to the First Folio was created so visitors can touch and interact in a hands on way. The paper and binding is an exact replica of the original.
  • The Arizona State Museum is preparing for the many events surrounding the First Folio.
    Tirion Morris/TucsonSentinel.comThe Arizona State Museum is preparing for the many events surrounding the First Folio.

His words are familiar to everyone who speaks English; more than 400 years ago, playwright William Shakespeare coined turns of phrase we all use every day. His characters and plots, both comedies and tragedies, have inspired generations of other playwrights, authors and filmmakers, and his works remain the most staged around the world.

But many of his plays were not published during his lifetime, and might have been lost forever if not for a limited edition published in the years after his death.

One of those historic volumes, a First Folio published in 1623, will be on display in Tucson for the next month.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and in celebration of the playwright, one of the original First Folios is making a nationwide tour, stopping in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. In Arizona, the book will be exhibited at the Arizona State Museum.

'Shakespeare is alive and well and still an active part of our culture' — Brent Gibbs, Az Repertory Theatre

If not for the 393-year-old collection of 36 plays, many of Shakespeare's masterpieces may have gone missing. First printed in the book were 18 of the playwright's works, including "Macbeth," "Julius Caesar," "The Taming of the Shrew," and "The Tempest."

Just 750 copies of the First Folio were compiled and printed, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, by two members of his acting troupe, John Heminges and Henry Condell.

Without those books, we might never have heard the bawdy flirtations of Kate and Petruchio. Lady Macbeth would have ceased to lather her hands. There would be no one to lend an ear about Caesar. But we have those characters, and the plays they inhabit — and a copy of that work is visiting Tucson.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is sponsoring the tour, and owns 82 of the original First Folios out of the 233 known to still exist. The Folger, in Washington, D.C., is home to the world's largest Shakespeare collection.

The exhibit, running here through March 15, showcases the First Folio, open to the "to be or not to be" page of "Hamlet." Among the interactive elements are six panels of information and pictures to see as well as a book printed and bound in the style of the First Folio for museum goers to touch and experience. There are also Spanish and Braille translations available. Multiple iPads are available for visitors to virtually flip through the pages of the Folio.

A folio is a bound book that is larger than the quarto-sized books that some of Shakespeare's were initially published in. The First Folio was the first collection devoted entirely to a single playwright's works for the stage, and included the familiar engraved portrait of the Bard by Martin Droeshout as its frontspiece.

Getting the First Folio to the Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus was no easy task. Jane Prescott-Smith, special assistant to the dean of the university libraries, worked with the Folger to get the collection to the museum.

“We were able to meet the Folger Shakespeare Library’s criteria for security and climate control,” said Darlene Lizarraga, the museum's marketing director.. Each of the exhibits, including the First Folio display, are kept in climate-controlled micro-environments of 72 degrees and 32 percent relative humidity, no matter the weather conditions outside.

Along with academic collaborations, community collaborations were another requirement of the Folger Library’s host sites, Prescott-Smith said. Because of the timing of the tour, the Tucson Festival of Books falls during the Folio's time in Arizona. There will be many Shakespeare-themed events at the festival, including four adult panels and one children’s panel.

“We worked with the authors committee who were able to reach out to a number of authors who have recently written about Shakespeare and invite them to come to the festival,” said Prescott-Smith. 

Also during the festival, the museum will be open and tours from the festival to the exhibit will be offered. Organizers hope to promote both the First Folio and the Arizona State Museum.

“Hopefully we'll get a lot of traffic of people coming to see the Folio who have come here for the book festival,” said Lizarraga. “We are also going to have a museum-wide open house, so not only will the Folio and the exhibits be open, but behind the scenes as well. So come for the Shakespeare and stay for the Southwest archaeology.”

'Alive and well'

The arrival of the Folio has inspired many Shakespeare-themed events that will go on during its stay. This Saturday, the museum will hold a family event called A Saturday with Shakespeare, which will include many interactive elements and craft-making stations. There will be a Shakespearean style duel and children will be able to learn the steps and fight with pool noodle swords. Visitors will be able to try their hand writing calligraphy with a quill pen and making Elizabethan ruff collars, according to Heather Ingram, the museum's assistant director of education.

Some of the local organizations involved are the Rogue Theatre, the UA's Fred Fox School of Music and the Sonoran Science Academy. Actors from the Arizona Renaissance Festival will also be there performing and interacting with the crowd, said Ingram.

The Arizona Repertory Theatre is putting on two of Shakespeare’s plays from the First Folio during the time the exhibit is at the UA: " The Tempest" and "The Comedy of Errors."

Rehearsal and preparations are in full swing for the two plays, said Brent Gibbs, artistic director for the UA troupe.

"We started back in September, and we are adding the technical elements now so that it'll be ready," said Gibbs.

 He hopes that visitors will visit both the museum, to see the First Folio, and the theater to see the plays.

“I think it will give them a complete experience,” said Gibbs, “which is the hope so that they can see the book that preserved the plays, which is a fascinating historical artifact, but then they can come to the theater and see that Shakespeare is alive and well and still an active part of our culture.”

Gibbs explained the importance of Shakespeare and why his work lives on 400 years after his death.

“Shakespeare communicates ideas of what it means to be human in ways that nobody else has, perhaps never will,” said Gibbs. “We quote him all the time and don't even realize that we are quoting him. The other day we were working on the show and one of the characters says ‘shake it off’ and you think, 'oh my God, I wonder if that was the first time that was uttered.' Shakespeare’s the one who coined all of these ways of expressing things that we experience all the time in the modern world.”

Two other exhibits accompany the First Folio at the Arizona State Museum, putting the display into context. A collection of artifacts from the 1600s and 1700s shows what was happening here in the Southwest during Shakespeare’s lifetime. There are also three other folios on display in the museum library to help visitors understand the construction of the large volumes.

“Arizona State Museum is a museum of Southwest archaeology and anthropology so Shakespeare and Elizabethan literature are not within our purview,” said Lizarraga, “but it's always within our purview to create life-enriching experiences with authentic objects of cultural heritage, and that's exactly what that book is.”

First Folio happenings

  • What: First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare
  • Where: Arizona State Museum, 1013 E University Blvd.
  • When: Feb. 15 -March 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon.-Sat.
  • Exhibit is free, although there is a $5 fee for adults to see the rest of the museum
  • What: A Saturday With Shakespeare
  • Where: Front lawn of Arizona State Museum
  • When: Saturday, Feb. 20, 1-4 p.m.
  • Free event
  • What: Shakespeare's 'The Comedy of Errors,' produced by Arizona Repertory Theatre
  • Where: Tornabene Theatre, University of Arizona
  • When: Feb. 28-April 2, times vary
  • Tickets: $28, discounts available
  • What: Shakespeare's 'The Tempest,' produced by Arizona Repertory Theatre
  • Where: Tornabene Theatre, University of Arizona
  • When: March 6-April 3, times vary
  • Tickets: $28, discounts available
  • What: Music inspired by Shakespeare: Prokofiev, Gounod, Rossini, Verdi, by the Arizona Symphony Orchestra
  • Where: Crowder Hall, UA Fred Fox School of Music
  • When: March 5, 7:30 p.m.
  • Tickets: $5-10

Everyday Shakespeare

"Shake it off" is far from the only coinage by Shakespeare that made the leap from the stage to common speech. Among the many other phrases first penned by him that remain familiar even after hundreds of years are:

  • "Brevity is the soul of wit" — Hamlet
  • "Be-all and the end all" — Macbeth
  • "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" — Hamlet
  • "Brave new world" — The Tempest
  • "Break the ice" — The Taming of the Shrew
  • "Dead as a doornail" — Henry VI Part II
  • "A dish fit for the gods" — Julius Caesar
  • "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war" — Julius Caesar
  • "Devil incarnate" — Titus Andronicus / Henry V
  • "Eaten me out of house and home" — Henry IV Part II
  • "Faint hearted" — Henry VI Part I
  • "Forever and a day" — As You Like It
  • "For goodness' sake" — Henry VIII
  • "Foregone conclusion" — Othello
  • "Full circle" — King Lear
  • "The game is afoot" — Henry IV Part I
  • "Give the devil his due" — Henry IV Part I
  • "Good riddance" — Troilus and Cressida
  • "Greek to me" — Julius Caesar
  • "Jealousy is the green-eyed monster" — Othello
  • "Heart of gold" — Henry V
  • "Hoist with his own petard" — Hamlet
  • "In my heart of hearts" — Hamlet
  • "In my mind's eye" — Hamlet
  • "Kill with kindness" — The Taming of the Shrew
  • "Knock knock! Who's there?" — Macbeth
  • "Laughing stock" — The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • "Live long day" — Julius Caesar
  • "Love is blind" — The Merchant of Venice
  • "Milk of human kindness" — Macbeth
  • "Mum's the word" - Henry VI Part II
  • "Neither here not there" - Othello
  • "Off with his head" — Richard III
  • "One fell swoop" — Macbeth
  • "Play fast and loose" — King John
  • "Set my teeth on edge" — Henry IV Part I
  • "Wear my heart upon my sleeve" — Othello
  • "Wild-goose chase" — Romeo and Juliet

— 30 —

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