Much ado as year-long Shakespeare celebration begins

Mar 29, 2016

You’ve studied Shakespeare in class, now you can see some of his original works in person. The Bard’s first folio is on display at Buffalo’s Central Library.

The library is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with guest speakers and a birthday party on April 23. Oxford Professor of Shakespeare Studies Emma Smith said the now-rare books were commonly read during the Elizabethan era.

“When you look at the books, you can see all kinds of marks of times when this has just been a regular book,” said Smith. “Children have doodled in it. My favorite type of mark is the foot of a wine glass or a ring mark just showing this has been on the table while people have just been working or enjoying it."

Early William Shakespeare folios are now on display at the downtown Central Library.
Credit Nick Lippa/WBFO News

Smith said each book is unique and many have notes and opinions in the margins. Only 750 copies of the first folio were printed, making the books extremely rare. The works were critical to Shakespeare’s career.

“Shakespeare would be a much lesser playwright, (with) fewer plays,” said Smith. “Half of his plays are published for the first time in the first folio. We wouldn’t have them if the hadn’t been in. We wouldn’t have Macbeth, wouldn’t have Antony and Cleopatra, and wouldn’t have Twelfth Night. It’s an amazingly important literary collection.”

Smith said people used to get hand-carved cases for the collections, treating them almost like a holy book.

“It does look like a relic or a treasure or something like that. It becomes a sort of art object or thing to be revered. Some of the ways they’re being thought about is as if you come close to something and you can almost touch it and just touching it is almost a religious experience.”

Smith is one of several speakers taking part in the celebration. Several theatrical performances will occur this year corresponding with the events. The works will be on display through the rest of the year.