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UCI Libraries Opens New Shakespeare Exhibition

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UCI Libraries opened its new exhibition, “400 Years of Shakespeare’s First Folio,” on May 4. The event consisted of an opening program at the Irvine Barclay Theater followed by the viewing of the exhibition at Langson Library.

Shakespeare’s First Folio, originally published in 1623 as “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies,” is the first compilation of Shakespeare’s plays, and includes 18 which were never published before. Printed seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the First Folio is one of the most expensive pieces of literature ever auctioned, according to UCI Libraries.

The exhibition was curated by Derek Quezada, UCI alumni and Rare Books Librarian at USC, with editorial support from Christina Acevedo and Cheryl Baltes. The display was designed by Allan Helmick, Sylvia Irving and Luisa Lee. 

The exhibition incorporates four centuries of rare books and art work of Shakespeare, exploring various influences Shakespeare drew from in the late Renaissance. It also pays special attention to the copy of the First Folio housed in UCI Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives.

Hanako Ishizuka-Gunderson, public services assistant at Langson Library’s Special Collections & Archives, presented the First Folio to event attendees. She discussed how the manuscript stands out from other copies of the First Folio.

“This is the first time [Shakespeare’s] plays were collectively put together. And it’s also the first time that they were separated into different categories. It’s separated into comedies, histories and tragedies,” Ishizuka-Gunderson said, before discussing its physical makeup.

The cover of the book is Moroccan and made of goatskin with gold leaves, and the interior of the book was bound in the late 1800s. The content itself dates back to the 1600s.

Additionally, Ishizuka-Gunderson explained there are markings on certain pages of this copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio that make it unique.

“We have wine stains in the ‘Twelfth Night’ of this copy. ‘Twelfth Night’ is considered a comedy, so maybe someone was laughing while drinking and spilled some wine. In ‘Titus and Andronicus,’ we have rust stains. Someone decided to just bookmark this with scissors, which is I think the greatest thing ever because we haven’t changed. We still use whatever is next to us to bookmark,” she said.

Several attendees questioned whether the First Folio could be touched without gloves, and Ishizuka-Gunderson explained it could without being damaged. 

“Paper is supposed to be touched, and you’re supposed to interact with it. It’s the UV lights that are the problem, and that’s why we don’t usually have this on display — and more of the damage is on the spine if it’s laid out for too long, which is why it’s on the pillow,” she said. 

The “400 Years of Shakespeare’s First Folio” exhibit was a way to showcase and commemorate Shakespeare’s original work in an engaging and impactful way.

“It’s really great we have this. If it [weren’t] for the First Folio, we would not have most [or] any of Shakespeare’s plays,” Ishizuka-Gunderson said.

The exhibit will be on display in the Muriel Ansley Reynolds Exhibit Gallery in Langson Library during regular library hours until December 2023.

Sabrina Henderson is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at smhende1@uci.edu.