Deep beneath the streets of Washington D.C., locked behind two sets of doors, in a vault the length of a city street, sits a rare treasure: Shakespeare’s first folio. The first published collection of all of Shakespeare’s works, the first folio was compiled in 1623 by friends of the Bard. Today, only 233 out of the roughly 750 original copies survive. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington has 82 First Folios—the largest collection in the world—and usually keeps the priceless artifacts locked away in their rare manuscript vault, where they can’t be stolen or destroyed.
But now, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger is taking some of its first folios out of the vault and putting them on tour.
The Folger has announced that copies of the first folio will visit all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico as part of a Shakespeare celebration and exhibition called “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.” Visitors will be able to look at an original copy of Shakespeare’s first folio, opened to Hamlet's famed “to be or not to be” speech, and partake in a series of educational events and activities.
According to NPR, the first folio wasn’t just the first collection of Shakespeare’s published works—it also introduced the world to several of Shakespeare’s unpublished plays, including Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth. Folger director Michael Witmore told NPR, "If you had to pick one book to represent Shakespeare, this is it.”
Check out Shakespeare’s folio tour dates here.