Wherefore Art Thou, Folio?

Shakespeare’s First Folio is on display in New Orleans this month.
courtesy of Tulane University

O f all the cultural offerings New Orleans has on hand, a nearly 400-year-old collection of William Shakespeare’s plays has not been one of them — until now.

Through a special partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, one of only 233 copies of the First Folio will be on loan and displayed in a special exhibit for the month of May.

Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues collected the bard’s comedies, histories and tragedies into one volume for the first time, creating the First Folio. According to the Folger Shakespeare Library, 750 or fewer copies were printed in 1623. Most researchers (and my college Shakespeare professor) agree that without the printing of the First Folio, many of the playwright’s works would have been lost forever. And what if we only had Coriolanus to judge him by?

Dr. Michael Kuczynski, associate professor of English and chair of the English department at Tulane University, played a key role in bringing the First Folio to New Orleans. He is also the faculty representative to the Folger Institute and championed the temporary exhibit.

Asked why a tourist or local should make seeing this exhibit a priority in May, he excitedly replied, “Shakespeare is for everyone! The opportunity to see the First Folio in New Orleans establishes a real, physical link between this place and its people and the most important writer who ever lived—and whose works endure… In coming together to appreciate the First Folio, during this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition tour, we learn to appreciate more deeply not only Shakespeare, but ourselves and each other.”

Shakespeare is intrinsically tied to London, but he has his fair share of connections to New Orleans as well. Dr. Monica Ramirez-Montegut, director of the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, said, “New Orleans is arguably the most Shakespearean of American cities in its simultaneous embrace of comedy and tragedy — evident in the symbolism of Mardi Gras and even in the Muses streets of Thalia and Melpomene. Characterized by extremes, our lives as New Orleanians are tests in resilience, empathy, and humor; we navigate between the opposites of the human condition just as Shakespeare’s characters have done for the last four centuries.”

Newcomb will house the First Folio exhibit, but has also collaborated with the New Orleans Public Library, New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, the university’s English department and The Historic New Orleans Collection for special events in conjunction with it.

Focusing on connections between New Orleans and the bard, The Historic New Orleans Collection will also feature a small exhibit during May. According to reference assistant Robert Ticknor, approximately 20 items will be on display that demonstrate Shakespeare’s influence on the culture of New Orleans. The items focus on the early English-language plays in the city as “American” residents moved in and desired entertainment that wasn’t in French, as well as instances of Mardi Gras themes and décor showing the prominence of Shakespeare’s quill.

“We curated what I hope will be an interesting exhibit examining Shakespeare and his place in New Orleans,” Ticknor said. “Everyone should certainly go Uptown and see the First Folio in person at Tulane. But if you can’t make it over there, our exhibit will make a nice diversion.”

For more information on the First Folio exhibit, the Historic New Orleans Collection, and all of the events surrounding this important work of art, visit http://firstfolio.tulane.edu and www.hnoc.org.

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. Prior to New Orleans, she wrote for publications in the Midwest and New York City.



Categories: The Magazine