"To Be or Not to Be, That is the Question..." Except That it Wasn't

Sep 8, 2016

Four hundred years after his death in 1616, the plays of William Shakespeare are still performed around the world. With 410 feature-length films and numerous TV retellings of his work, Shakespeare is recognized as the most filmed author of all time and has writing credits on 1100 films. 

None of this would have been possible without one book: the First Folio, which is a collection of Shakespeare's plays that was published in 1623. 

To mark this anniversary of the Bard’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library is sending out copies of the First Folio to all fifty states.  Its only stop in Iowa is at the University of Iowa’s Main Library, and Adam Hooks, Associate Professor in the Department of English and the Center for the Book, was instrumental in bringing it here.

“Even if you don’t happen to be a Shakespearean or an expert in old books, there’s a lot you can learn from the experience of looking at this book – particularly in the space that we have here,” Hooks says. 

The Folio, like all of the Folger’s copies on tour this year, is open to Hamlet’s iconic “To be or not to be” speech while it's on display, and Hooks points out that there are many other interesting things to see besides the famous soliloquy. For example, the page’s earlier stage directions show that Ophelia was actually wandering around reading a book behind the title character, meaning that the most famous soliloquy of all time… wasn’t.

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe visits the exhibit and talks with Hooks about the First Folio, which will be on display until September 25th. The full exhibit accompanying the First Folio will be on display through December.