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Shakespeare’s First Folio headed to Amherst

“If there really is such a thing as turning in one’s grave,” the writer George Orwell once mused, “Shakespeare must get a lot of exercise.”

It’s been 400 years since the Bard’s death, and to commemorate the anniversary, several of the original First Folios are getting a workout of their own, touring the country as part of “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare,” a traveling exhibition that will touch all 50 states.

Made possible by the Folger Shakespeare Library, the exhibition’s sole stop in Massachusetts will be at Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum May 9–31. The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will feature one of the original 1623 books opened to Hamlet’s“To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy, along with interactive activities about Shakespeare’s influence, past and present.


“Amherst has long prized connections to primary-source literary documents because of the insight they offer into the history of the written word,” said Amherst president Biddy Martin in a statement. “We are particularly excited to be the Massachusetts host of the First Folio.”

The First Folios, which include 36 plays, were compiled by John Heminges and Henry Condell in the years following Shakespeare’s death in 1616. There are believed to be roughly 230 surviving original copies of the work today, though previously unknown copies occasionally surface as happened at a French library in 2014.

Founded by Amherst alumnus Henry Clay Folger, the Folger Shakespeare Library houses what many regard as the world’s preeminent Shakespeare collection.

“We are so thrilled,” said Michael Kelly, head of Amherst’s archives and special collections, which is also presenting a concurrent exhibition about Folger’s Amherst years. “It does seem fitting that the First Folio returns to the alma mater of Henry Folger.”

Malcolm Gay can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.