Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - February 19, 2016
"...That little candle ..."
I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I was excited. Daughter Mariya, sister Gaila and I were there to see "First Folio! The Book That Brought Us Shakespeare."
We rounded the corner and saw the book in the glass case. It was open to the page with the most-quoted line from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" - "To be or not to be." The museum docent told us we could get closer to see it.
"But not too close," he warned us, grinning. "It has an alarm on it."
It's truly a treasure, and we're lucky to be able to see it in Manhattan, Kansas, the only site in the state where it will be displayed.
A "folio" is an expensive book, made of full-sized sheets of paper folded only once, creating large pages. This format was usually reserved for Bibles or important works of history, law and science. But after Shakespeare's death, two of his friends from his acting company put together the First Folio, which included 36 of his plays.
Shakespeare was one of the first English playwrights to have his plays collected in a folio. It was published it in 1623 and without it, some of his plays would have been lost. About 750 copies of the First Folio were published, but only 233 known copies survive.
Besides the glass-encased First Folio, the Manhattan exhibit had various panels explaining the works of Shakespeare and his influence on the world. One listed the 36 works included in the book, among them "All's Well That Ends Well," "Antony and Cleopatra," "As You Like It," "The Comedy of Errors," "Hamlet," "King Lear," "Macbeth," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Othello" and "Romeo and Juliet."
I was 15 when Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 movie, "Romeo and Juliet," was released. It was the first time I remember really understanding Shakespeare's words. The fact that the actors were teenagers Leonard Whiting, 17, and Olivia Hussey, 15, - my age! - meant I could relate more easily to the tragic love story. That same year, I wrote a paper comparing and contrasting "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story" for a sophomore English class. I was enthralled.
Since then, I've seen a number of Shakespeare's works on the stage. In 2013, our family visited Kronborg Castle in Denmark, world-renowned as Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Walking through the grounds made me feel as if I had been transported back in time.
Another panel in the Manhattan exhibit listed some of the phrases used in Shakespeare's plays we still hear in conversations today:
- Come full circle
- Budge an inch
- Out of the jaws of death
- Eaten me out of house and home
- As white as driven snow
- Hold a candle to
- Spotless reputation
- Too much of a good thing
- Blinking idiot
Although I haven't heard my U.S. friends say "blinking idiot" in everyday conversations, a number of my British friends have used it now and then.
Mariya, who earned a master's degree in English with an emphasis on cultural studies, loved the exhibit.
I enjoyed that the Folio was open to Hamlet's soliloquy. Since it's one of the most famous monologues, it was accessible to great scholars and casual fans alike. I also enjoyed the display that featured common phrases and adaptations highlighting Shakespeare's influence on contemporary culture.
Mariya's bachelor's degree was in art and she designed the logo - "Shakespeare in the Little Apple" - that has been used on the promotional materials for the exhibit. The logo has appeared on fliers, brochures, banners and ads. Manhattan, Kansas is nicknamed "The Little Apple" as a nod to her big sister Manhattan, New York, which has long been called the "Big Apple."
Gaila, who lives in Bolivia, was glad she had the opportunity to see the First Folio during her recent visit to Manhattan.
It was really cool that his friends thought it worthy to save his works in a book! They could have just thrown everything out, but they knew his work was important.
Husband Art plans to visit the exhibit soon. Although he said he doesn't care that much for Shakespeare's plays, he likes the playwrights' insights into people and how he understood the human condition, its strengths and weaknesses.
First Folio is a national traveling exhibition brought to Manhattan by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. The exhibition, which will travel to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, is located in the Beach Museum on the university campus and is here through Feb. 28.
Other events have been arranged throughout the month in conjunction with the exhibit. On Feb. 20, the Manhattan Public Library will host a 10 a.m.-to-5 p.m. Shakespeare Faire: Shakespeare for All Ages.
This year was chosen for the traveling exhibition to commemorate the 400th anniversary on April 23 of William Shakespeare's death. If he were alive today, even the Bard himself might be surprised - using his own words from The "Merchant of Venice" - "How far that little candle throws his beams!"
Top: Mariya's logo from the university website; bottom-left: Mariya, Gaila and Gloria behind the glass-encased First Folio; bottom-middle: Art "mugging" for the camera in front of Kronborg Castle; bottom-right: Mariya dwarfed by banner with her logo outside McCain Auditorium on the university campus.