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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

Shakespeare cometh to A&M via high-profile exhibit

Shakespeares+Folio+displayed+in+the+J.+Wayne+Stark+Gallery
Photo by Photo by: Kevin Chou

Shakespeare’s Folio displayed in the J. Wayne Stark Gallery

The world is a stage, and Texas A&M will be merely a player in presenting students with “First Folio! The Book that gave us Shakespeare.”

This exhibit is part of a nationwide celebration spearheaded by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. to honor the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. Each American state, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, will have one location that will showcase the exhibit, which has an original 1623 collection of 36 plays, referred to as the “First Folio.” 

After a rigorous process that began in October 2014, the Texas bid was awarded to A&M. 

“It’s an incredible honor — it really is,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, curator at Cushing Library and project director for the exhibit. “And we are very humbled of course, but we see this as a great opportunity to highlight the great work of the humanities and the arts that is going on at Texas A&M everyday.” 

After much consideration, O’Sullivan said organizers decided to have every exhibit in each state opened to a page in “Hamlet,” where they can see the iconic phrase, “to be or not to be.” He also said had it not been for the First Folio’s creation, 18 of the 36 plays, which include well-known productions such as “Julius Caesar” and “MacBeth,” would have been lost.

“There are 233 First Folios that are known to exist, and there were 750 originally printed, approximately,” O’Sullivan said. “It was a sizable number and it was a very popular book and sold out in nine years, which doesn’t sound that impressive by today’s standards but it really was, and of the 233 that are known to exist and to survive, the Folger holds 82 copies.” 

Of these 82, only 18 will tour the country to reduce wear and tear on one book and allow for several venues to have a book at the same time. The copy that visits A&M will reside in the J. Wayne Stark Galleries, which is required to take special precautions to minimize damage on the nearly 400-year-old book. 

“We have what is called a black box room, which is an exhibition space,” said Amanda Cagle, collections manager for the Stark Galleries. “There are no windows with only one access point, so we can make the room very dark because the material of the book and the ink in it is 400 years old. It is very delicate and sensitive to light exposure, so the lighting for the room has to stay below 5-foot candles.” 

She said because the book is so old, they had to ensure the UV lights would not fade the color of the ink. In addition to meeting the necessary requirements, O’Sullivan said he thought it would be smart to pair with the Stark Galleries because it was a perfect venue for the exhibit due to the central location on campus. 

Catherine Hastedt, director of the University Art Galleries Department, said due to its limited engagement, she expects a large audience. 

“We are getting a lot of interest, a lot of choir tours and other groups that are arranging for tours,” Hastedt said. “Based from previous venues, the attendance is going to be in the thousands.” 

O’Sullivan said there has been interest from as far as Midland, Odessa and the Rio Grande Valley, and aside from the exhibition in the Stark Galleries, the Cushing Memorial Library will host other events outside of the College Station area.

“In addition to the First Folio, there is a large slate of programming that is ongoing both during its engagement here and during the entire spring semester,” O’Sullivan said. “There will be live performances and film screenings and there is a whole second exhibit at Cushing library showcasing early modern literature at Texas A&M. We really want folks to know that this is a limited engagement and this is just here for the month of March.”

The First Folio will be showcased in the J. Wayne Stark Galleries from March 8 to April 3. The complimentary events will be held until April 20. 

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