Shakespeare’s First Folio: Expert Q&A

Professor Estill views the First Folio

Professor of English and Shakespeare expert Laura Estill views the First Folio

Texas A&M is currently displaying one of the world’s most treasured books, William Shakespeare’s First Folio, the first collected works of the legendary playwright. The Folger Shakespeare Library, in partnership with Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association, is touring the First Folio to all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The book is on display at Texas A&M’s J. Wayne Stark Galleries through April 3.

Laura Estill, Texas A&M professor of English, is a leading expert on the works of Shakespeare, having edited the World Shakespeare Bibliography, and published articles and chapters in Shakespeare Quarterly, Shakespeare, The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare, and Shakespeare and Textual Studies. Her first book, Dramatic Extracts in Seventeenth-Century English Manuscripts: Watching, Reading, Changing Plays looks at how early readers and audience members copied selections from the plays they were reading or attending.

We asked Estill about the First Folio and her thoughts about Shakespeare’s profound and contemporary relevance.

Q: What is Shakespeare’s First Folio?

A: The first folio, the first collected works of Shakespeare, was published after his death in 1623. It is the first-known publication of almost half of Shakespeare’s plays, including Macbeth, As You Like It, and The Tempest. Without this landmark book, these other plays could have been lost. We know of two lost Shakespeare plays that weren’t published with the first folio: Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won — maybe they would have survived had they been included in this book.

Close-up of the First Folio

The First Folio is turned to the page featuring the famous line from Hamlet “To be or not to be”

Q: How does the First Folio differ from other Shakespeare publications?

A: The first folio differs from both earlier and later publications. Some plays that were published first individually (in quarto) are quite different in both versions: for instance, King Lear has additional scenes in both the quarto and folio — it’s not just that one is an abridgment of the other. In some cases, the first folio is the only authoritative text for scholars and directors. Of course, there are also lots of adaptations later on that vary wildly from the first folio text, such as Nahum Tate’s The History of King Lear (1681), which tells the story of King Lear with a happy ending!

Q: Why are the works of Shakespeare still so relevant today?

A: Shakespeare’s plays tell us not only about Western history, but also about our current culture and society. The plays are regularly performed and adapted; each new performance, adaptation, publication and reading brings new meanings to his works. From high school politics (10 Things I Hate About You) to the horrors of war (Ralph Fiennes’s recent Coriolanus film), Shakespeare reflects our preoccupations and interests. As the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad showcases, Shakespeare is now a global commodity — his works are translated and adapted into different languages and adapted into new cultural situations.

Q: Why should people come see this exhibit?

A: Getting to see the First Folio can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This valuable book is worth between $3-5 million! Seeing this centuries-old book can make you feel closer to Shakespeare and can be an awe-inspiring experience. Most importantly, however, I’d like to say that the rest of the events we are offering — including live performances, films, lectures and workshops — are definitely worth attending, and they are all free to the public.Gallery visitors viewing the First Folio

Q: How was Texas A&M chosen to display this exhibit?

A: To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. decided to send one copy of the First Folio to each state. A team of faculty and staff at Texas A&M put together an application explaining the reasons we would be ideal to host the folio: for instance, we are home to the World Shakespeare Bibliography, we have an extensive early modern collection at Cushing (including a second folio, from 1632), and we could facilitate an array of exciting and engaging programming. We had to promise that we would be able to display the folio in a room with particular light and humidity conditions, with security, and with public accessibility. We won the bid to host because of our exceptional facilities and all the wonderful events we are putting on to celebrate #Shakespeare400.

To read some of Estill’s writings on Shakespeare, visit here and here.

For more information about the First Folio and upcoming related events, visit

Media contact: Lesley Henton,, 979-845-5591

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