(James Ryerson article appeared in New York Times, June 1, 2016; via Dejza Stevenson.)

For the 400th anniversary in April of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, perhaps unable to arrange for his exhumed remains to be put on public display, produced the next best thing: a traveling exhibition of the First Folio, destined for all 50 states. The Folio is the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays, printed posthumously in 1623, and there are only 234 known copies; the Folger, which owns 82 of them, is dispatching a rotating cast of 18. Thousands of people nationwide have been lining up to view what the Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith calls his “bibliographic embodiment,” encased in a high-tech vitrine to prevent decomposition.

The exhibition is precisely the sort of affair that interests Smith, who observes in SHAKESPEARE’S FIRST FOLIO: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book (Oxford University, $29.95) that “many — perhaps a majority — of encounters with the First Folio would not be classified as ‘reading.’ ” You can do plenty of other things, after all, with the Folio, such as buying, selling, annotating, collecting, bequeathing, inheriting, stealing and forging it. (Also: writing a 379-page book about it.) Smith concerns herself with all these activities, paying special attention to how, over time, they have invested the book, as well as the figure of Shakespeare, with meaning.


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