Shakespeare and the Book
An online exhibition from
The Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library
The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching & Learning

On those occasions when the Shakespeare first folio, the 1623 first printing in folio format of the collected works of William Shakespeare, is placed on display, it is generally shown in splendid isolation as one of the great treasures of the library. Columbia's copy, a part of the 1881 bequest of Stephen Whitney Phoenix, is no exception, although over the decades it has been shown to a large number of classes, including recently many sections of Literature Humanities in the Columbia Core Curriculum.

In this exhibition, inspired by the publication of David Scott Kastan's Shakespeare & The Book (Cambridge University Press, September, 2001) the Shakespeare first folio is on display not only with Columbia's copies of the other three 17th century Shakespeare folios. All four are shown within the context of the 17th century English printed play, along with copies of works known to Shakespeare.

This exhibition draws heavily on the splendid collection of four centuries of English and American literature collected by Jack Harris Samuels and bequeathed to the University by his mother, Mollie Harris Samuels, in 1970. This collection is distinguished not only for the titles represented but also by their excellent condition and, in many cases, distinguished provenance.

Launch Exhibition

Our thanks to David Kastan and graduate assistant Alan Farmer for their work on a web site to accompany the exhibition website. Thanks also to Frank Moretti, Peter Sommer, and Peter Leonard of the Center for New Media Teaching and Learning for creating the sites, using a large number of images that were digitized by Lars Meyer of the Library's Preservation Division.

The Library is grateful to John Wolfson, Curator of Exhibitions for Shakespeare's Globe in London, for lending three quartos from his collection: Thomas Dekker and John Webster's Westward Hoe, and the two plays now accepted into the Shakespeare canon that were not included in the first folio, Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

The paintings in this exhibition are from the George Arthur Plimpton Collection of Portraits of English Authors. Mr. Plimpton served as a board member of the textbook publisher Ginn & Company, and collected books, manuscripts and other materials to show the development of "our tools of learning." The Plimpton library and portrait collection came to Columbia in 1936.

Another important collection at Columbia is the Dramatic Museum and Library formed by Columbia professor and theater history pioneer, Brander Matthews, beginning in 1912. Among the many kinds of materials that he collected were three-dimensional theater models. The Dramatic Museum model of the Fortune Theatre, built in London in 1599-1600, is now on permanent display in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's West Gallery.

Jennifer B. Lee
Exhibition Curator
January 2002