Closer Readings Commentary

Shakespeare's First Folio National Tour 2016

This is a wonderful testimony to the Folger and to the remarkable interest there is in Shakespeare.” —David Kastan, Did He Even Know He Was Shakespeare?

The most commonly taught author in American schools, Shakespeare connects millions of students to powerful language, themes, and ideas that touch us every day. The Folger Shakespeare Library’s unprecedented tour of the First Folios offers an opportunity for Americans across the country to view the texts first-hand and connect with Shakespeare in new and different ways. 

What is the First Folio?

In 1621, five years after Shakespeare’s death, a group of publishers began the project of printing a comprehensive collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Eventually, they would secure the rights to publish 19 plays that had already appeared in print (though Pericles, which had been published in 1609, and whose rights they owned, was inexplicably left out). More importantly, they would establish the rights to publish the 18 plays that had never appeared in print. Those works had belonged to The King’s Men, the acting company for which they were written, and they included The Winter’s TaleThe TempestThe Taming of the ShrewTwo Gentlemen of Verona, and Macbeth.

In 1623, the volume finally appeared. This is undeniably an impressive book, with 36 plays printed on over 900 double-columned pages; an engraved portrait of Shakespeare; a dedication to two influential aristocrats; along with other prefatory materials. All attest to the ambition of the publishers to create a living monument to Shakespeare.

The First Folio is also significant as it is the first time Shakespeare’s plays were divided into dramatic types—comedies, histories, and tragedies.  It is the earliest example of a folio consisting only of an author's plays.*

Learn more about the First Folio from EDSITEment-reviewed Folger Shakespeare Library.

First Folio Tour

This year, to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., with the support of NEH, has sent 18 of its extraordinary collection of First Folios on a national tour. The First Folios’ tour will continue over the course of 2016 and will include a stop at all 50 states as well as Washington DC, and Puerto Rico.

This exhibition is part of the Folger’s Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare initiative to celebrate Shakespeare's works and his extraordinary legacy through special events, exhibitions, performances, and more—online, at the Folger, and across the United States!

Learn more about the 2016 national tour, First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare

Search Folger’s interactive map to discover where and when you can see the exhibition and ideas for ways in which you and your students can engage with it!

Teacher Connections

The First Folio tour is sure to open up some important and intriguing questions about Shakespeare’s texts for your students. Here are some educational resources from the Folger Shakespeare Library to help you explore those question and make connections:

  • Teaching modules offer classroom applications to Shakespeare’s works with novel and dynamic ways to approach these complex texts. These modules integrate active (and painless) close reading, primary source documents, textual studies, and strategies for adapting and assessing learning. Try one of the teaching modules and see for yourself how powerful this kind of learning can be!
  • Shakespeare's works includes background information and images for every play. These are perfect for in-class activities or for self-directed learning. Students can also find out more about the following topics. Follow the links for information about plot synopses, brief textual histories, and selected images from this collection.
  • Common phrases from Shakespeare encourages exploration of the language in the plays—you may be surprised by how closely it resembles our own! Click on the links in to see where each phrase is used in the text
  • Podcasts and Recordings offer a range of audio resources that can help you explore Shakespeare and the Renaissance with your students. Below find links to more information about the Folger’s current series; click through for information about individual recordings.

*Note: A folio is a large book in which printed sheets are folded in half only once, creating two double-sided leaves, or four pages. In the 17th century folios were more expensive and far more prestigious than quartos (a book page resulting from folding each printed sheet into four leaves, or eight pages.)