Holy moly, Shakespeare fans. It all just got real.
I had high hopes for this project to read the whole canon aloud, but I never thought I’d get to read directly from a real Folio.
Thank you so much to Max Yela, the head of the Special Collection at the Golda Meir Library here at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for staying after hours to show me this magnificent historic book and allow me to not only handle it but read directly from it.
Now, the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare tends to suck all the limelight. That book (famously compiled by Condell and Heminges and credited for preserving most of the canon that we would not otherwise enjoy today), is one of the most widely collected books in history. The Second Folio, republished 9 years later and with its own following and idiosyncrasies, is still an incredibly rare book, still avidly collected, and it is most certainly NOT normal for any university to just have one lying around. UWM is very lucky to have it, and Max reminds us in a separate video (that you can find here) that this library and its collections is not just for the students but also for the general public as well. Hence why a Shakespeare nerd like me can stumble in off the street and get to have a close look. Admittedly, I’m here on an artist residency and not your average bum. But the point remains – you too can make your pilgrimage to the Second Folio in Milwaukee.
Max points out several things of note here – the very first iteration of the hand of Thomas Middleton in print, the Ben Jonson dedication, the anomalies in printing and type-setting, etc. Then we get down to business.
I am reading Romeo & Juliet at present and the famous “Lark” scene is next. For those of you less familiar with short-hand quasi-elitist R&J lingo, “Lark” refers to the post-coital scene at dawn between the title characters after they marry, when they have a pleasant argument over whether the bird that just sang was the nightingale (which means it’s still night time and they can continue to cuddle), or the lark (‘the herald of the morn’ which is synonymous with death for Romeo as he is banished for slaying Tybalt).
I read only the first half of the scene because, well, I didn’t want to go on and on and on trampling on time as valuable as Mr. Yela’s, but I had had my fun. Capulet is about to come in next and put the smack down, and the spell of love for the audience will be momentarily broken. The spell for me of getting to read directly from the Folio however, can continue until I finish the scene, which after this very special celebration on Shakespeare’s birthday, is something I am eager to prolong.
PS – if you’re curious about the Second Folio, the wiki article (which could use a bit more meat on the bone admittedly) can be found here.