Today, I am traveling with a dear friend to peer inside the original 1623 book that gave us The Tempest (one of my favs), Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and all the bard’s best. Well, in fact, all the bard. The book, Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, is the first complete collection of his plays. Shakespeare nerds refer to it as the “First Folio.”
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library has sent several First Folios from its collection to travel throughout all 50 states. First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare is part of the Folger’s larger “Wonder of Will” celebration.
Although several of Shakespeare’s plays had been published individually before 1623, the First Folio provides the only version for eighteen of the plays, and is a great reference for many of those that had been published previously. Of course, it gives an opportunity to compare different versions, prompting scholars to wonder about which of Hamlet’s dying words Shakespeare preferred, given that there are allegedly three versions: “The rest is silence,” “Heaven receive my soul,” or “O, O, O, O.” Personally, I don’t get hung up on those final word sorts of questions; I’m in it for the story—the twists of plot, the schemes of wise fools and foolish kings.
Linda and I have been poring over manuscripts for our 2017 books over the last several weeks. Amidst the mind-boggling techniques for making textiles and the fascinating and beautiful cultural details, it’s the story, the narrative of the artisans and their history that binds everything together and pulls me along from Kandahar to Cusco.
I don’t suppose 400 years from now anyone will wonder about multiple endings to any of our books, nor do I imagine that someone will travel a distance to peer inside their pages. But I do hope many long years from now that someone continues to unwind the story of an Afghan embroiderer, a Lao silk weaver, or an Andean knitter, told through the threads of their lives.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Things are happening!