Archive photos of Shakespeare's first folio on display. Courtesy John Shoesmith.

The University of Toronto is marking 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare with a special exhibit at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. ‘So long lives this’: Celebrating Shakespeare, 1616-2016 features Shakespeare’s First Folio from 1623 — the only copy in Canada. 

The First Folio was published seven years after Shakespeare’s death. It was the first time a book of plays was printed, and the first time that more than half of the plays were published.

“Until then folios were mostly used for printing important religious, political, and historical works. With the First Folio in 1623, the format of the book itself confers a new kind of importance on plays — and plays written and performed for nearly the full stratum of English society, from working-class people to the royal court,” said Alan Galey, director of the Master of Information Program at U of T.

Galey worked with fellow U of T professors Peter W.M. Blayney and Marjorie Rubright and Western University assistant professor Scott Schofield to curate the exhibition.

“Without it, we probably would never have been able to read — or even know about — plays including Macbeth, The Tempest, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and Anthony and Cleopatra [sic],” added Galey.

Almost 60 other books will be on display, some of which Shakespeare may have used for inspiration in his own work.

“Reading the same sources that he did helps us understand how he apprenticed himself, so to speak, to other writers and dramatists,” said Galey.

“We often value writers now for their originality, but Shakespeare’s actual practice as a dramatist reminds us of a basic fact about writing: that writers make stories out of other stories, and that creativity frequently comes from adaptation, reinvention, and even what today we would call remixing,” adds Galey.

In addition to source material, the exhibition features Shakespeare’s other three seventeenth century folios, Shakespearean scholarship from the Renaissance, and present day texts.

“Studying the other books also helps to elucidate the printing history of the First Folio itself. So for instance one of the other books had a type that got broken at some point,” said Anne Dondertman, director of the Fisher Library. “So when that same broken piece of type reappears in a particular play in the First Folio, it makes it possible to determine the order of the printing of the plays in the Folio.”

The exhibit is free to attend and runs until May 28, 2016. The Fisher Library is also running a screening series at the Media Commons Theatre, which will showcase film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work.

“If you come and see the exhibit and the modern material that’s included I think its [sic] brings it home that Shakespeare is still a source of inspiration to ordinary readers today but also to people who are making books or illustrations,” said Dondertman.

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