A rare collection of William Shakespeare’s plays will be on display at the Beach Museum of Art throughout February as part of an exhibition celebrating 400 years since the playwright’s death.
The exhibit centers around the bard’s First Folio, a collection of 36 plays assembled by Shakespeare’s contemporaries in 1623, and Shakespeare-themed events will be offered throughout the month.
The month-long celebration, dubbed “Shakespeare in the Little Apple,” will take place at various locations throughout Manhattan, with events ranging from a workshop for teachers on the First Folio, to a pub crawl on Poyntz Avenue called “Shakesbeer.”
The pub crawl gives people a chance to change their perceptions about Shakespeare’s plays, said Rachel Nyhart, senior in anthropology and English and president of the inactive Shakespeare club.
“The pub crawl event is a great idea,” Nyhart said. “Society has this perception that Shakespeare is highbrow literature, but in reality, Shakespeare plays were enjoyed by an audience of mixed social classes.”
Kara Northway, associate professor of English specializing in Shakespeare, said she is most excited for a dance performance by Jessica Lang Dance, a New York-based dance company that will be premiering a performance based on the poet’s sonnets on Feb. 9 inside McCain Auditorium.
“This is a world-famous group premiering an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” Northway said. “Shakespeare loved music and dance and incorporated them frequently into his plays.”
There will also be performances of Shakespeare’s plays by professional and local groups. The opportunity to see these plays performed live is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the community, especially for those who have never seen a Shakespeare play performed live, according to Don Hedrick, professor of English specializing in Shakespeare.
“I’ve had students be bowled over by seeing a play, who have never seen any live theater at all,” Hedrick said. “It’s the sort of opportunity that students in other schools, some of the most prestigious in the country, would not themselves have.”
The book’s collection of 36 plays contains 18 pieces that were unpublished prior to the release of the Folio, including “Macbeth” and “The Tempest.”
Had the book not been released, Shakespeare may not be known as the preeminent playwright of the Renaissance, Northway said. Cementing the bard’s legendary status, however, was not his colleagues’ sole intent when the Folio was compiled.
“Shakespeare’s good friends, who created the Folio after he died, believed that it had something within it that could draw and hold all readers,” Northway said. “The exhibit will offer all readers unmediated access to Shakespeare’s words as he conceived them.”
The Folio is on tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. to a single site in each of the 50 states. K-State was chosen as the venue for Kansas. The collection is one of only 233 of the playwright’s remaining original Folios, most of which are rarely put on display. Northway said this makes the community’s chance to view the Folio very special.
“At any given time, there may be only a handful of places in the world where the Folio would be on public view,” Northway said. “This year is an exception because 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.”
After the Beach exhibition closes at the end of February, someone wanting to see the Folio will have to go to some trouble and expense to do so, Northway said.
“The Folger exhibition is a treasure that we have a chance to see for free in our own backyard,” she said.
The Folio and related events offer something for everyone, even those who may not like Shakespeare, Nyhart said. She said she believes the community will bond around the events.
“Just as much as the events are focused on Shakespeare, they also emphasize community building,” Nyhart said. “Not everyone has to like Shakespeare or ‘get’ Shakespeare to enjoy themselves this month. It’s awesome that we get to celebrate history as a community through this iconic artifact.”
According to Casey Hoeve, assistant professor and library representative for the Folio grant application, Shakespeare’s works are still relevant today because they are still being used as a base to create modern works, like movies and plays.
“I think that even at this point, we’ve seen so many different authors and playwrights and scholars that are still researching Shakespeare today, and his work is just as important now as it was back then,” Hoeve said. “It’s fairly important that students and the public recognize that these works are still relevant, as they’re still being used to produce new works and new adaptations that they enjoy that they may not realize is tied to Shakespeare.”