In 1623, seven years after the death of William Shakespeare, friends, collaborators and supporters of the playwright published Stories and Tragedies from William Shakespeare’s Comedies, the early editions of which are among the most sought-after rare books in existence – only 235 copies of the so-called “Premier Folio” are known to have survived.
Now, 399 years later, the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada has acquired a First Folio, which will be on display to the public at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) from January 15 to 20. March. The newly acquired first folio will be featured alongside three copies of later editions of Shakespeare’s folio dating from the late 17th century.
“As a character, Shakespeare has always been multiple and hybrid, there is so much we don’t know about him,” says Anthony Kiendl, director of VAG. “And the four folios we show illustrate this – each has a slightly different version of the pieces.”
The first folio is particularly important because it is considered essential to the preservation of Shakespeare’s work and reputation for subsequent generations. Of the 36 pieces it includes, 18 — including Macbeth, The Tamed Shrew, Julius Caesar, Storm, Twelfth Night and The winter tale– had never been published before and otherwise could have been lost forever.
UBC acquired the First Folio via Christie’s from a private collection in the United States. The last time the auction house sold a First Folio, at a public auction in October 2020, it was describe as one of only five copies known to remain in private hands, this copy more than doubled its low estimate to sell for $ 9.7 million (including fees).
UBC, a public university, has been able to acquire this copy with the support of a consortium of North American donors and with funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage. She now owns the only First Folio on the West Coast of North America outside of California, and just the second in Canada (the other is in toronto).
The VAG exhibit is curated by Gregory Mackie, Professor of English at UBC and Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections at his Library, and Katherine Kalsbeek, Head of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Library at UBC .
In addition to a display of the four folios, the VAG exhibit will feature an animated digital display showing several annotated pages of the volumes as well as an augmented reality feature with a Shakespearean figure appearing in the museum’s atrium on the screens of the smartphones of the visitors. The accompanying audio will feature Christopher Gaze of the Vancouver-based Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival performing passages from the plays.
“We’ve never done a show like this before,” says Kiendl. “These digital features really bring the texts to life.”
- For All Times: Shakespeare’s First Folio, January 15-March 20, Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia