The UBC Shakespeare First Folio Research Cluster, led by our very own Hallie Marshall, is centered on UBC’s newly acquired copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. The other members of the cluster include Patrick Parra Pennefather (THFL), Patricia Badir (ENGL), Dennis Britton (ENGL), Christine D’Onofrio (AHVA), David Gaertner (FNIS), Katherine Kalsbeek (UBC Library), Erik Kwakkel (School of Information), Gregory Mackie (ENGL), Toph Marshall (AMNE), Vin Nardizzi (ENGL), Gavin Paul (Arts One), Tiffany Potter (ENGL) and Chelsea Shriver (UBC Library). The cluster members each bring a range of disciplinary backgrounds and research methodologies to the team. Funding from this award will provide an opportunity for cluster members to come together in dialogue around the First Folio, look for ways in which we might foster collaborative projects and encourage meaningful engagement with the Folio both among community members at UBC and beyond.
In 1623, seven years after the death of William Shakespeare, his colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell compiled 36 of his plays and convinced printers Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount to publish them in a single volume printed in a large, expensive folio format. The result was a book now widely regarded as the most important English language publication of all time—Shakespeare’s First Folio. Of the approximately 750 copies printed, 235 are known to survive today. In 2021, UBC was offered the opportunity to purchase a near-perfect copy of this book before it went to auction. Thanks to the generous contributions from our many donors, UBC was able to purchase the book.
“The First Folio will certainly be a centerpiece in UBC’s Rare Books collection, but it also presents a number of challenges. One concern is how to make the book an accessible research resource, while also safeguarding it as a priceless object. Another concern is the moral complexity of owning this very expensive acquisition—which is, in many ways, emblematic of Western culture—in the context of a university committed to reconciliation and decolonization. The research cluster aims to develop innovative ways that will make the First Folio more accessible as a research and pedagogical tool and as a site for public engagement and community debate.”
400 years of the First Folio and beyond
One of these efforts, led by Dr. Pennefather, will be the digitization of the First Folio into different types of mixed-reality exhibitions. The first exhibition, For All Time, launched in January and used motion capture and augmented reality to integrate a touchtable showcasing the Folio and a retelling of Macbeth’s famous witches scene. In the summer of 2020, UBC Library’s Head of Rare Books, Katherine Kalsbeek, Associate Professor Dr. Gregory Mackie, and Dr. Pennefather discussed the importance of employing emerging technologies to increase access to the Folio, offer new experiences for new audiences on virtual stages, and elevate the voices of lesser-known and often marginalized characters in various Shakespeare plays.
“There’s a rich tradition of adapting Shakespeare to a society’s needs, addressing urgent questions of the day and presenting unique critical positions on Shakespeare’s plays and characters that compliment the Folio’s rich history, along with annotations within the Folio that speak to its ownership over a 400-year period.”
The period leading up to the Folio’s 400-year anniversary will be a time of reflection, renewed interest, exciting interdisciplinary collaborations and new adaptations.
In addition to Dr. Pennefather’s work, Dr. Patricia Badir and Dr. Gregory Mackie plan to organize a conference to mark the 400-year anniversary of the First Folio’s publication, which may also involve a collaboration with Bard on the Beach. Furthermore, the cluster plans to host two public lectures each year on topics related to the First Folio and its cultural significance.