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Shakespeare's First Folio exhibit arrives in Duluth

The First Folio of William Shakespeare’s work on display at the Tweed Museum of Art is open to the Tragedy of Hamlet. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Two visitors to the Tweed Museum of Art read displays accompanying the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s work on Tuesday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

The pages of William Shakespeare's First Folio are very soft, which would be expected after hundreds of years of being handled, but they're also sturdy. They bend and wave easily and are clearly well-made, according to a preparator at the Tweed Museum of Art.

"Contrary to popular museum belief, it's actually safer to touch rare books like this with bare hands," said Anneliese Verhoeven, who was among a trio that painstakingly created the First Folio display — which included handling and displaying the book in the museum's studio gallery.

Cally nielsen (left) and Idun Rasmussen look at the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s work at the Tweed Museum of Art.For everyone else: The collection of plays that was published in 1623 is being kept in a temperature- and humidity-controlled ¼-inch acrylic case under a specific level of dim light. The "First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare" opened Tuesday at the University of Minnesota Duluth and runs through Oct. 26.

It's a traveling exhibit — 400 years after the Bard's death — by the Folger Shakespeare Library, keepers of 82 First Folios. There is just one stop per state. Throughout October, there will be other community Shakespeare-related events, including the Grand Opening Celebration at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Tweed Museum of Art.

In getting up close to the book, Verhoeven was able to touch the cover and see, firsthand, the iconic portrait of Shakespeare on the title page.

"It was really incredible," she said. "There was a moment when I was alone with it for a few minutes. It was the most incredible feeling to be this close to such an evocative object that has such great meaning to the world at large. It was a rush. It was many, many emotions all at once."

It's believed that 750 copies of the First Folio were published seven years after Shakespeare's death. There are 235 known remaining copies.

Krista Sue-Lo Twu, an associate professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature, said the First Folio allowed Shakespeare's plays to circulate outside of London, exposing more people to his work.

Krista Sue-Lo Twu, professor of Medieval & Renaissance Literature at the UMD, gestures toward the First Folio.While on display, the book is open to page 264, the start of "The Tragedy of Hamlet," — "To be or not to be." The book gets its own security guard who, on Tuesday, was versed on First Folio facts.

The exhibition opened quietly on Tuesday morning and was followed by a trickle of visitors, mostly UMD staff.

Mia O'Brien, ESL specialist at the Kathryn A. Martin library, was among the first to visit the exhibition. She said she has been excited about it since it was announced in 2015.

"(Shakespeare) is brilliant on so many levels," she said. "Especially how he coined so many phrases we use in everyday language."

O'Brien said she is not easily impressed, but —

"I had an actual goose bump moment looking at this old work," she said.


  • What: "First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare" grand opening
  • When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday
  • Where: UMD's Bohannon Hall 90, 1207 Ordean Court, followed by a reception in the Tweed Museum of Art
  • Tickets: Free, open to the public
  • Information on Shakespeare-related events: