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Monday, December 12, 2016

The "First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare" Story

Security guard stands next to the showcase that contains the First Folio.
It was an ordinary day.  Standing in front of the showcase with my camera over my shoulder.  Saw it was a good time to take a photo so I pulled the camera off my shoulder, took off my glasses and began to pull my camera towards my face.  Decided I needed both my hands to hold the camera still, due to the low light in the room, so I began to put my glasses on the top of the showcase.  In a very loud voice I heard, "Sir, don't dare put those glasses on the showcase.  You'll set off the alarm."  Guess I should have known better, since the showcase was holding a multi-million dollar document known as the First Folio.  
The First Folio on display at Elizabethtown College.
It was printed in 1623 and is one of 240 First Folio's known to exist today.  The original copies numbered 750, but time has dropped that number with many of the books being passed down through the ages within families.  Oh yeah, I guess I should tell you what the First Folio is in case you've never heard of it.  The First Folio is a collection of 38 of William Shakespeare's plays, 18 of which had never been printed to that point.  That 18 included Macbeth, The Tempest, As You Like It, Julius Caesar and the Twelfth Night which may have never been known to future generations if not for two of Shakespeare's fellow partners in the Lord Chamberlain's Men acting company, John Heminge (or Heminges) and Henry Condell, who assembled the 36 works together in the years after Shakespeare's death in 1616 and created the First Folio.  The First Folio that is on display is at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania which is about twenty minutes from my home in Lancaster.  
The First Folio is opened to the famous lines ...
to be or not to be, that is the Question.
The First Folio that is on display at the Elizabeth College High Library is from the Folger Shakespeare Library, established by Henry and Emily Folger in Washington, DC.  The Folger's collection included 82 First Folios, the largest group in the world.  The Folger Library chose one college in each state to display the First Folio and Elizabethtown, who is known for their collection of Shakespeare material, was chosen in Pennsylvania.  
The title page of the Geneva Bible.
I entered the library and followed the signs to the second floor where I was given a guest pass to wear around my neck with directions to the room where the First Folio was displayed.  The room was nearly empty and I had plenty of time to view the First Folio as well as a copy of the Geneva Bible which is part of Elizabethtown's rare books collection.  The Geneva translation into English dates from the second half of the 16th century and is historically important since Shakespeare would have had access to it.  Really neat to view both pieces of history and realize that many of Shakespeare's words and phrases are still in use today.  Phrases such as: to much of a good thing, out of the jaws of death, into thin air, time-honored, seen better days, budge an inch, be it as it may, foul-mouthed, forgone conclusion and even not a mouse stirring are all attributed to William Shakespeare.  I'm just glad I didn't place my glasses on the showcase that contained the First Folio and have to be ushered out of the library before I had the chance to visit history in person.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

The High Library at Elizabethtown College
I followed the marked path to the library.

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