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Shakespeare's First Folio on display at the Posner Center

Credit: Courtesy of Tim Kaulenz Credit: Courtesy of Tim Kaulenz Credit: Courtesy of Tim Kaulen Credit: Courtesy of Tim Kaulen

This year, Carnegie Mellon University will join in a nationwide movement to celebrate and remember the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Here at Carnegie Mellon, we are lucky enough to have a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, a collection of his works made near the time of his death in the early 17th century. As one of only 750 copies made, Carnegie Mellon’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio is the most expensive book in the rare book collection on campus.

The Folger Shakespeare Library, the largest collection of Shakespeare’s works in the world, will be sending copies of the Folio to all 50 states in honor of the Bard, but Carnegie Mellon University is one of the few institutions in the world to already have a copy.

There are an estimated 234 copies remaining of the original 750 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Carnegie Mellon managed to obtain one of them due to the generosity of one its trustees and a life long patron of the arts in Pittsburgh, Charles Rosenbloom. Upon his death, his rare book collection was split among several institutions, including Yale University (his alma mater) and Carnegie Mellon University. The First Folio has remained in Carnegie Mellon’s care since 1974.

Shakespeare’s First Folio is currently on display in the Posner Center. However, in honor of the world’s most famous poet, there are now also accompanying works of the Bard on display. In partnership with the School of Drama, the Posner Center has gathered materials from past productions of Shakespeare’s works and put them on display. Each display is focused on a specific Shakespearian play, including titles such as “A Midsummer’s Nights Dream,” “Macbeth,” “As You Like It,” and “Richard III.”

Each of these exhibits highlight a past production performed by the School of Drama. Shakespeare’s work was written to be performed and, according to Mary Catharine Johnsen, the special collections librarian in the Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon, “Shakespeare’s work in theater led him to be quite the psychologist.” Many believe his understanding of human nature is what makes his plays so powerful. The dates of these adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays varies throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, with some (such as “Richard III”) having multiple innovative plays over the past decades to compare. The exhibits are filled with interesting details from the plays, such as directors notes on the transcript, or original fabric selections for the costumes. Students that find themselves visiting the exhibit may find it interesting to see the various directors’ interpretations of the same works throughout the years.

While some may think that plays written over 400 years ago lose meaning when put into a modern context, Johnsen disagrees. “You can relate to what he’s saying…. You read it and go ‘Oh, I feel that way!’” Part of Shakespeare’s appeal is that he told stories about human beings.

Along with the presentation of the First Folio and the exhibits of the past Shakespearian performances at Carnegie Mellon, there are several other events to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. On Nov. 4 there will be a dialogue between Peggy Knapp, a current Shakespearian professor at Carnegie Mellon, and Michael Whitmore, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor who is now employed at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. This dialogue will take place at the Posner Center and will discuss how Carnegie Mellon has affected the study of Shakespeare’s works and how students have reacted to the First Folio. It will conclude with a Q&A session. Furthermore, there is a scheduled performance of “The Seven Ages of Man” speech from “As You Like It” on Nov. 13.