Get thee to the First Folio!

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Sign up to see the First Folio at unlv.edu

Unless Apple approves a séance app, we may never know what Shakespeare would think of Las Vegas. But this month we will find out what Las Vegas thinks of Shakespeare. Pictured here are pages from a First Folio, an original, first-ever edition of Big Bill’s complete works, circa 1623ish. One of these is coming here. This is big. First Folios are rare as hell and incalculably important: Without it we wouldn’t have 18 of Shakespeare’s plays that hadn’t been published at the time, among them Macbeth, Henry VIII and The Tempest. (Imagine all the British thespians who’d have holes in their résumés without those parts!) The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., owns 82 of the 235 FFs known to exist and is touring them among the states this year to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s departure for “the undiscovered country.” This will be Nevada’s only Folio, on display in the Special Collections department of UNLV’s Lied Library September 1—29, accompanied by a series of talks and events.

Don’t think being dead for 400 years has consigned Shakespeare to the past. Indeed, says UNLV English professor Evelyn Gajowski — previewing her September 14 lecture — these days we have more ways to do with the Bard what we do with any text: construct relevant meanings from it. Queer theory, feminist theory, eco-criticism, economic theories, post-colonialism — all are methods of finding meanings that are shaped by the culture of today. So, interpreting Shakespeare needn’t only be a matter of projecting backward to his time to reconstruct his intent. “These are methods of interpretation that are anchored in the history that’s shaping us,” she says. Example: She’s observed that post-colonial and race theories “have been particularly empowering to minority students — giving them permission to speak or write from their experience when analyzing the dramatic situations of Othello or Cleopatra or Caliban or Shylock or Aaron.”

Another highlight is sure to be UNR English Department Chair Eric Rasmussen —  the guy called in to authenticate a Folio unearthed last year in Paris — talking about the history of the Folios; he literally wrote the book on these books. Other topics include Shakespeare and gambling, Shakespeare and the environmental crisis, 16th-century printing techniques and more. The schedule's up at unlv.edu; register at http://guides.library.unlv.edu/firstfolio for a time slot to see the Folio, though on-site registration is possible if there are openings.

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