Celebrating 400 Years of The Bard

First Folio highlights Show Me Shakespeare 2016 at the Kansas City Public Library

‘To be, or not to be?’ and ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ are two of the most well-known questions in English Literature, written by the inimitable hand of William Shakespeare.
Want an answer, to these questions or any others about the one-and-only Bard of Avon? Visiting the Show Me Shakespeare 2016 series celebrating the exhibition of Shakespeare’s First Folio at the Kansas City Central Library June 6-28, and other events surrounding the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, will be the perfect outing.

Shakespeare’s First Folio is a collection of William Shakespeare’s plays published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. Eighteen of the plays included in the volume had never been printed previously and would have been lost otherwise. Only 235 copies of the Folio are known to exist today.

One of those copies is coming to Kansas City in June. The University of Missouri-Kansas City is part of the surrounding celebration.

In 2015, in anticipation of the anniversary, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. announced a campaign to loan a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio to one site in every state. In response, cities all over the country scrambled, hoping to make it to the top of the pile.

Joan FitzPatrick Dean is curators teaching professor of English in the UMKC Department of English. She said the Kansas City Public Library approached UMKC about entering the bidding to try to win the privilege of hosting this priceless volume in Kansas City. With the UMKC English and Theatre departments as partners – along with the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, the Kansas City branch of the English-Speaking Union, the Missouri Humanities Council and KCUR – the library was able to bring home the prize.

“It really is a prestigious thing for the library and a great boon for the area to have this coming to Kansas City,” Dean said.

Since the Kansas City Library won the bid for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, UMKC students and faculty from the Department of English have been busily preparing to help the library host this momentous celebration.

“The library asked us if there might be a way that UMKC students could be trained to serve as docents. Myself and two other faculty, Dr. Laurie Ellinghausen and Dr. Jennifer Frangos, offered an online course,” Dean said.

Students had to have taken a Shakespeare class previously, and had to be invited to participate in the volunteer docent preparation course, to qualify.

In all, fourteen current UMKC students from the Department of English were trained to be docents. These students will be working at the exhibit for eight to ten hours a week for three-and-a-half weeks while the Folio is in Kansas City.

“This has been the best opportunity for our students and a fabulous collaboration with a very important community partner,” Dean said.

Docents will give presentations about the way Shakespeare’s First Folio was produced and printed, about Shakespeare himself and about the history of the book.

“These kids have really worked hard and they had to pay to do volunteer work. They have done a great job. This is the best example I know of UMKC students going out into the community, interacting with the public, and a very large public at that, to use what they’ve learned in classes at UMKC,” Dean said.

The exhibition of Shakespeare’s First Folio will be open seven days a week at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., beginning June 6. Events surrounding the exhibition include several prestigious guest speakers, a separate exhibit (Shakespeare: Setting the Stage) featuring costumes and sets from various presentations by the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, and more. Click here for more information and to see a full list of upcoming events.

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