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Review: Shakespeare Unauthorized

Shakespeare’s folios that contain his first drafts of plays are displayed at the Shake- speare in the Boston Public Library, celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death. Jordan Watts/Sagamore Staff

Shakespeare’s folios that contain his first drafts of plays are displayed at the Shake- speare in the Boston Public Library, celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death. Jordan Watts/Sagamore Staff

Jordan Watts, Staff Writer

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As one enters the exhibit Shakespeare Unauthorized, they are immediately faced with a large canvas of the awe-inspiring man himself—William Shakespeare, his image looming over the entrance. From his rare and valuable quartos to the famous First Folio, you are sure to remain riveted throughout the exhibit.

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Boston Public Library is holding this one-of-a-kind exhibit, allowing viewers to view Shakespeare’s legacy.

Shakespeare was born in 1564 to a glove maker in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. He began his career in theater in the late 1580s when he arrived in London, and over time, simultaneously worked as an actor, poet and playwright. Shakespeare wrote at least 38 plays and over 150 poems before his death in 1616.

However, not much more than this is known: No letters or manuscripts belonging to Shakespeare exist, and so much of his life remains a mystery. We are left with only his pieces of art to appreciate.

Upon entering, one immediately views several editions of Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet. Many can quote the famous line, “to be or not to be, that is the question,” but most do not know that there was a first edition of Hamlet discovered in 1823 that deviates from the Hamlet we know.

The famous line in this edition is “to be, or not to be, Ay there’s the point.” This long-lost first edition of Hamlet is cruder, with less natural poetry, leaving many scholars to question the exact relationship between the two editions. We are left to question whether this first piece is a first edition or simply an early draft.

Another essential part of the exhibit are the rare and valuable quartos. These thin, pamphlet-like booklets were inexpensively produced and not meant to last, as different editions were constantly printed and barely resembled one another.

Few of these quartos have survived the centuries since Shakespeare’s time, making the few early editions of Shakespeare’s plays at the exhibit, including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, some of the rarest and most valuable books in the world.

The final part of the exhibit is Shakespeare’s First Folio. This first edition of many of Shakespeare’s plays was published in 1623 and is considered their most accurate representation.

The First Folio preserved 18 of Shakespeare’s plays that were previously unpublished, including Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar. This famous collection of plays is largely responsible for Shakespeare’s plays surviving and flourishing for centuries.

All the items on display were originally part of the personal collection of Thomas Pennant Barton, one of the most distinguished rare book collectors in 19th century America. When he passed away, his widow Cora Livingston Barton sold the collection to the library in 1873 for less than half of its estimated value. This collection has since become a priceless cultural cornerstone for Boston.

This exhibit, Shakespeare Unauthorized, was on display at the Boston Public Library through March 31, 2017.

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Review: Shakespeare Unauthorized