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The Original Bard: Celebrate the Book That Gave Us Shakespeare's Works

The Seattle Public Library hosts rare Shakespearean folio

First Folio! Exhibit by the Seattle Public Library
Photo credit: The Seattle Public Library

For just three weeks, Seattle families will have a chance to see the first book ever printed that collected Shakespeare’s plays. The book will be on view at Seattle’s Central Library from March 21–April 17 as the centerpiece of the traveling exhibition First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare. The 393-year-old book, considered one of the most important in the world, will be displayed with its pages open to Hamlet’s famous “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy. 

We owe the creation of the First Folio to two members of Shakespeare’s acting company. Seven years after the death of the Bard, John Heminges and Henry Condell assembled and printed 36 of the celebrated playwright’s works. Eighteen of those plays, including Macbeth and Twelfth Night, had never before been published, and without the First Folio they may have been lost long instead of becoming household names.

Hundreds of copies of the First Folio were printed (the highest estimate is 750) but only 233 known editions survive. Eighty-two reside in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., which created the traveling First Folio! exhibit to honor the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Starting on March 21, the exhibit can be viewed during regular library hours with timed admission every 30 minutes. A limited number of daily drop-in tickets will be available at the Central Library. 

Free First Folio events for kids

Of course, the novelty of this exhibit might be lost on some of Shakespeare’s younger readers (unless,of course, we're talking about the fourth and fifth graders who read The Shakespeare Stealer in this year’s Global Reading Challenge). For both Shakespeare Stealer fans and others, the Seattle Central Library will host a number of exciting (and free!) family-friendly events.  

  • The first event is Celebrate Shakespeare Community Day on Saturday, March 26, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. at the Central Library. For most families, it'll be the first opportunity to see the exhibit. Free performances will include kiddie-rock band Recess Monkey, storyteller Eva Abrams and the Theater of Possibility: The troupe's 8- to 14-year-old actors will present The Rude Princess, a reinterpretation of The Taming of the ShrewThere will also be art and creative writing activities throughout the day. This community day takes place at the Central Library.

  • Fans of Romeo and Juliet may enjoy The Juliet Project, on Tuesday, March 29 at 12:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 2, 4 p.m. The Juliet Project is an original 30-minute performance featuring people all over the world and the letters they wrote to the female protagonist of this famous play. Come early and stay after to write a letter of your own.

  • Backyard Bard will perform an abridged, one-hour production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with a small professional cast at noon on Wednesday, April 6, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 10.

    Courtesy of Backyard Bard
    Courtesy of Backyard Bard
  • The Seattle Shakespeare Company will perform selected scenes from Romeo and Juliet on Thursday, April 7, 6:30–7 p.m., and on Saturday, April 9, 1:30–2 p.m.  
  • Seattle Immersive Theatre will present an hour-long modern take on Romeo and Juliet on Monday, April 11 at 7 p.m.

The more musically inclined may be interested in the following: 

  • Seattle-based chamber singers The Byrd Ensemble will perform songs Shakespeare might have recognized. Catch their performances on Sunday, March 27, 3–4 p.m. and Monday, April 11, 12:30–1:30 p.m. 

  • Apprentice instrumentalists, ages 11–14, from the Early Music Youth Academy will present music from Elizabethan England and Renaissance Italy on Wednesday, March 30, noon–1 p.m. 

  • The Ladies Musical Club will perform music inspired by Shakespeare's works from noon–1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, and from 3–4 p.m. on Sunday, April 17.   

Shakespeare lectures at the Central Library

  • On Saturday, April 9, 2–3 p.m., Ann Ferguson, curator of the library's Seattle Collection, will explore Seattle’s relationship to Shakespeare using photographs, theater programs and newspaper reviews.

  • Shakespearean scholars will spend a lively evening debating the Bard's influence on theater, pop culture and more in Shakespeare Here & Now on Thursday, April 14, 6–8 p.m. 

Family-friendly movie screenings inspired by Shakespeare

If you're looking for even more options, Scarecrow Video will screen movies based on Shakespeare’s plays at branch libraries around the city during the exhibition. One note: Unless your kids are older, you may want to skip Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and instead stick to one of these:  

North By Northwest (1959, rated for ages 11+ by Common Sense Media)
Capitol Hill Branch, 425 Harvard Ave. E.
Saturday, March 26, 3–5:15 p.m. 

The Tempest (2010, PG-13)
Green Lake Branch, 7364 E. Green Lake Dr. N.
Saturday, April 2, 2–3:50 p.m. 

10 Things I Hate About You

Forbidden Planet (1956, G)
Wallingford Branch, 1501 N. 45th St.
Sunday, April 3, 2–4 p.m.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999, PG-13) 
Broadview Branch, 12755 Greenwood Ave. N.
Sunday, April 3, 1–3 p.m.

Beacon Hill Branch, 2821 Beacon Ave. S.
Thursday, April 14, 3–5 p.m.

Gnomeo & Juliet (2011, G)
Queen Anne Branch, 400 W. Garfield St.
Sunday, April 3, 2–4 p.m.

High Point Branch, 3411 S.W. Raymond St.
Monday, April 4 , 6–7:30 p.m.

Beacon Hill Branch, 2821 Beacon Ave. S.
Tuesday, April 12, 1:30–3 p.m.

West Side Story (1961, conservatively rated for ages 11+ by Common Sense Media)
Central Library, 1000 Fourth Avenue, Level 1, Microsoft Auditorium
Sunday, April 3, 2–5 p.m. 

Lake City Branch, 12501 28th Ave. N.E.
1:30–4 p.m. Sunday, April 10  

She's the Man (2006, PG-13)
Columbia Branch, 4721 Rainier Ave. S.
Saturday, April 9, 2–4 p.m. 

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990, PG)
Northeast Branch, 6801 35th Ave. N.E.
Wednesday, April 13, 2–4 p.m.

Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing (2012, PG-13)
Northgate Branch, 10548 Fifth Ave. N.E.
Sunday, April 17, 1–3:30 p.m. 

Kiss Me, Kate (1953, unrated and unreviewed by Common Sense Media but film critic Ty Burr recommended for tweens)
Wallingford Branch, 1501 N. 45th St.
Sunday, April 17, 2–4 p.m.

If You Go

Where: The exhibit and most of the Folio events events are at Seattle Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Level 8 Gallery, 206-386-4636. Admission to view the exhibit requires a free timed ticket, which can be ordered online

When: March 21–April 17 during regular library hours with timed admission every 30 minutes. A limited number of daily drop-in tickets will be available at the Central Library. Visit the exhibit calendar for a full schedule of events. Exhibit tickets are not required for events held on the library’s third floor. 

Getting there and parking: There is an underground parking garage at the Central Library with an entrance on Spring Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Weekday rates are $11 for two hours and $15 for three hours. All-day parking on the weekend is $7. The Central Library is well-served by several bus routes. For more information, visit the library's website.

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