The Heavens Blaze Forth the Death of Princes: NYPL Celebrates Shakespeare’s 400th Death Anniversary


Shakespeare’s First Folio [Photo: Clare Kendall / Atlas Obscura]

Anna Yesilevskiy

This past April was the 400th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest and most well known poets and playwrights, William Shakespeare. To celebrate Shakespeare and his works, the New York Public Library teamed up with Theatre for a New Audience on September 28th to host an event in which the First Folio (a collection of Shakespeare’s plays) will be presented. Furthermore, after the viewing of the Folio, the Folger Shakespeare Library director Gail Kern Paster and Shakespeare scholar and Brooklyn College English professor Tanya Pollard held a discussion about the Folio’s origins and history. Richard McCoy, the chair of TFANA’s Council of Scholars and an English professor at Queens College, introduced this discussion.

The event began in New York Public Library’s Gottesman Hall where guests viewed the First Folio and other rare items from the Library’s Shakespeare collections. Following that, the event continued in the Public Library’s Celeste Auditorium, where Paster’s and Pollard’s discussion took place.

This event, however, did not only occur at the New York Public Library. The Folger Shakespeare Library has eighty-two copies of the First Folio, and in honor of Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary, copies of the First Folio will travel to all fifty states this year. The copies of the Folio should return back to their vaults by January 2017.

The First Folio is considered very valuable to researchers because by the seventeenth century, printers started to edit and make corrections in the plays according to how they interpreted them. The plays in the First Folio do not have any edits or corrections in them and thus, researchers and scholars can see what Shakespeare actually wrote and meant.

Regarding the Folio, Sloane Whidden, who is a registrar and exhibitions manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library, stated, “A personal encounter with the First Folio is very meaningful.”

University English Professor Sid Ray discussed the First Folio and the event that was held by the New York Public Library and Theatre for a New Audience in September. Ray said that the First Folio is a collection of most of Shakespeare’s work, which was originally published in 1623 and was put together by Shakespeare’s friends. There are thirty-six plays altogether in the collection.

Professor Ray further stated that if Shakespeare’s friends had not put together the Folio, then most of his works would have been lost. And, interestingly enough, two of Shakespeare’s plays have been lost and no one has been able to find them. The plays are called Love’s Labours Won and Cardenio. Professor Ray said that some believe that Love’s Labours Won could have been a sequel to one of Shakespeare’s first comedies, Love’s Labours Lost whereas Cardenio might have been a play about King Arthur.

Professor Ray also said that the First Folio is very important because “the Folio put Shakespeare as the most important poet. It made him the great poet, the Bard.” In addition to that, she said that the Folio helped turn the plays into reading and performance texts.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Professor Ray added when asked her opinion on the exhibitions and lectures sponsored by the Public Library.

University students also spoke on their thoughts of the event. Sophomore Carissa Veltri said, “This sounds like a really interesting event,” and when asked if she would attend, she added, “Yes, I would attend. I think it would be a really interesting experience.”

Regarding the event, Junior Maria Veliz commented, “To me, this event sounds very interesting. In high school, Shakespearean plays were always my favorite to read, with Othello being my favorite one. Also, when we would review Shakespeare, I was always fascinated by his personal life.  The idea of scholars being there, I feel, would give this event a mature atmosphere.” Veliz also said that she would attend the event and added, “I feel that Shakespeare has had a huge impact on literature and [I] would enjoy attending a celebration of his works.”