UA to Stage a Visit From Shakespeare
To celebrate his legacy and the continued influence of his works, the UA has been chosen as Arizona's host site for public viewings of the most comprehensive collection of his plays: the 1623 First Folio.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Relations - Communications
Jan. 15, 2016


Coinciding with the First Folio at the UA, Brent Gibbs, an associate professor and artistic director, is directing two of Shakespeare's plays.
Coinciding with the First Folio at the UA, Brent Gibbs, an associate professor and artistic director, is directing two of Shakespeare's plays. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)


What is the value of the First Folio?

The 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's work is the earliest folio consisting only of a single author's plays, and it preserved 18 works that never had been printed before, including "As You Like It," "Macbeth," "The Taming of the Shrew," "The Tempest" and "Twelfth Night." 

What is the UA's unique contribution?

The UA was competitively selected as Arizona's host site for the viewing of the First Folio, a large book in which printed sheets are once folded in half to create four pages.

Why should you care?

The UA's Arizona State Museum will present for public view the First Folio, believed to be among only 233 such surviving folios today, thus offering the public an incomparable look at Shakespeare's original works.

Roger Myers, an associate librarian and archivist at the Special Collections Library, is the co-curator of a companion exhibit, "Shakespeare's Contemporaries and Elizabethan Culture." (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
English professor Meg Lota Brown has authored numerous books and articles on Shakespeare, Reformation politics and Renaissance literature. Brown will present a talk, "Shakespeare's Women," on Feb. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Special Collections. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
David Sterling Brown, an assistant professor in the Department of English, is an expert on Shakespeare and early modern English literature. His research focuses on parentage, family relations and race. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
Jessica Maerz, an assistant professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television, is an expert in theatre history, particularly Shakespeare and early modern drama. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)

William Shakespeare complicated issues of race and gender, either invented or popularized widespread use of dozens of words and phrases, and is known to have first used the name Jessica.

Hundreds of years later, his influence is unwavering.

"Macbeth" and "Romeo and Juliet" remain required reading for English students. Popular films such as "West Side Story" and "The Lion King" took cues from his plays.

Shakespeare is arguably the world's most famous dramatist and playwright, and some of his experiments with characterization, language and plot remain evident on the globe's stages and in contemporary film.

To commemorate his widespread contributions and the 400-year anniversary of his death, the Folger Shakespeare Library selected the University of Arizona as one of the host institutions for "First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare," on tour from the Folger library.

The venerable exhibition will tour every state and Puerto Rico this year with sponsorship support from the National Endowment for the Humanities,, Vinton and Sigrid Cerf, and other donors. The exhibition was produced in association with the American Library Association and the Cincinnati Museum Center, and its arrival will be one of the UA's biggest stories of 2016.

"I'm excited about the opening of the First Folio exhibit from the Folger Shakespeare Library," said UA Provost Andrew Comrie. "For our students and faculty, seeing original documents can inspire and re-energize a lifetime of scholarly passion and personal enjoyment."

As Arizona's host site, the UA will help provide unprecedented public access to the First Folio, which grouped Shakespeare's plays for the first time into comedies, histories and tragedies. "Folio" references the folding style of the paper — it is folded once in half.

For one month, from Feb. 15 to March 15, the UA campus and community at large will be able to experience the 1623 First Folio in person, while also engaging in a suite of other campus events. UA-sponsored event details are available online.

The Arizona State Museum will serve as the exhibition site for the First Folio, which will be on display and opened to the most quoted line from Shakespeare's "Hamlet": "To be or not to be." The multipanel exhibition will be accompanied by digital content and interactive activities. Additional programming has been developed for the months of February and March in the Tucson, Mesa, Tempe, Casa Grande and Yuma areas.

"Although Shakespeare and Elizabethan literature are not within the purview of the Arizona State Museum, it is definitely within our mission to present life-enriching experiences for the public," said Patrick D. Lyons, director of the Arizona State Museum.

"We are pleased to be able to partner with our colleagues across campus for this purpose whenever possible, especially when the opportunity involves providing an encounter with an authentic object of cultural heritage," Lyons said. "This rare opportunity will enrich us all."

At the time of Shakespeare's death on April 23, 1616, about half of his plays had been printed. The First Folio preserved 18 of his plays, none of which had been printed before, including the hugely popular "All's Well That Ends Well," "As You Like It" and "Macbeth." It is believed that fewer than 750 First Folios were printed and only 233 of the original prints are known to still exist. The Folger maintains 82 — the largest collection in the world.

"I'm thrilled that Shakespeare's First Folio will be on display at the University of Arizona," said U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva. "This exhibit builds upon UA's tremendous contributions to the lives of its students and our community at large through education and one-of-a-kind opportunities to experience culturally significant masterpieces." 

Rep. Martha McSally also said the exhibition recognizes the University's strengths. 

"The choice to host this historic copy of Shakespeare's First Folio at the University of Arizona recognizes our community's leading arts reputation," McSally said. "This is a unique opportunity to experience first-hand a rare piece of literary history. I'm proud to see Southern Arizona represent our state with this exhibit and encourage people of all ages to enjoy it while it's here."

Led by Jane Prescott-Smith, special assistant to the UA Libraries dean, faculty and staff — including those at the Colleges of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Fine Arts — helped produce the competitive bid to host the First Folio and subsequent event planning.

The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences will participate in a series of events, including film screenings and lectures. The College of Fine Arts Arizona Repertory Theatre will present "The Comedy of Errors" February through April and "The Tempest" in March and April. Brent Gibbs, an associate professor and artistic director, and certified fight director of Arizona Repertory Theatre, is directing the plays.

"The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is delighted to support the First Folio exhibit," said John Paul Jones III, dean of the college. "I am also pleased that the Shakespeare scholars in our Department of English can lend their expertise to help create educational and entertaining events surrounding the exhibit."

Although the folio itself will not leave campus, the UA is partnering with Phoenix-based Arizona Humanities and various libraries throughout the state to expand access to programming. Other partners include the Tucson Festival of Books and the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind. Also, the UA Libraries and its on- and off-campus partners will offer teacher trainings and other interactive activities.

UA Special Collections will offer a companion exhibit, "Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Elizabethan Culture," open Feb. 8 through April 30. In addition to examining specific plays and other literary works, the exhibit includes historical snapshots of documents that shaped Shakespeare's culture, such as anti-theatrical arguments, scientific discoveries and political activities.

The opening event to the exhibition, "Shakespeare's Women," will be held Feb. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Special Collections. During the event, English professor Meg Lota Brown, also the UA Graduate Center director, will discuss the social and historical contexts of women's roles in Shakespeare's England, and how the playwright both generates and subverts his culture's assumptions about gender.

Karen Williams, dean of the UA Libraries, said: "From the moment I heard that the Folger Shakespeare Library would be touring some of their First Folios, I knew that the University of Arizona would be the perfect host site for Arizona because of the close collaboration that exists across academic units."

(Jane Prescott-Smith, special assistant to the UA Libraries dean, contributed to this article.)

UANews is exploring six stories to watch as 2016 begins. Previously in this series:

Health & Medicine: The asthma research of Dr. Fernando Martinez 

Big Data: The UA's expanded role in turning data into discovery


Resources for the media

Jane Prescott-Smith

UA Libraries


La Monica Everett-Haynes

University Relations, Communications