Late last year, I read in the news that to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death (which was kind of a big deal back in April, in case you were off visiting another planet), the Folger Shakespeare Library would release 18 of their First Folios to tour the United States. Each state would be able to display one in a single location for several weeks. California's stop would be the San Diego Central Library during June/early July. By January, I was all over my husband to agree to a family vacation in San Diego as soon as our daughter's school year ended. Luckily, San Diego is one of the most beautiful cities in America and a great place to hang out with little kids. He wasn't hard to convince.
I spent a sandy morning at the beach with the family, then returned to our rental house to shower and dress with great care. I groomed with the same level of attention I use to get ready for a date. Full face of makeup, cute sundress, heeled sandals, the works. Hubs and kiddos stayed behind to play (my 3 year old told me to "have fun visiting Shakespeare!"), so I got to focus my full attention on the exhibit unimpeded by pleas for snacks or moans of boredom. I rode the elevator up to the top (9th) floor, and it opened out onto a beautiful rooftop courtyard. I strolled to the art gallery that was specially set up for the exhibit. Outside the door, I straightened my skirt, smoothed my hair, and readied my ticket. You know, typical first date adjustments.
- Upon entering the gallery, I was greeted by a wall that asked visitors "What Makes Shakespeare Relevant or Not Today?". You could contribute your thoughts on little slips of paper to post:
- The Old Globe is a premier theatre company based in San Diego, and they offered many items to show as a part of the exhibit. Old programs, posters, photos, stage manager notes, set mock-ups, and props showed decades of interpretation of Shakespeare's works. There were also some beautiful costumes on display, both traditional and more creative endeavors:
- The First Folio itself was set apart, with banners explaining its history, importance, and the Folger Library's role in having the most copies in all the world. The book was, of course, under glass, open to the "to be or not to be" speech (just once, I'd love them to have it open to something else!), and watched by a security guard standing 3 feet away. I enjoyed a moment reading the "get thee to a nunnery" scene.
- The 9th floor also houses the rare books collection of the San Diego Library. There were some awesome items here, including an exhibit of beautifully illustrated children's editions and another of some seriously cool editions of the books that were Shakespeare's source materials for many of his stories (some Ovid, a Holinshed's Chronicles, a Matthew's bible, and a Plautus from the 1600s). The (very nice) librarian on duty and I had a fun moment musing about how actors from the 17th century had a way better capacity for memorization than 21st century folk.
Last fun tidbit to wrap things up: you all know how the original Globe Theatre burned down? Well, San Diego's Old Globe did too (back in 1978)! And look what was recovered from the wreckage:
I highly recommend that you all check out the Folger site to see where else the folios are touring this year! We Americans didn't have quite the epic national hoopla surrounding Shakespeare 400 this year as our British friends, but this was a lovely and interesting exhibit. Hope you're all able to enjoy something similar at some point, or just a visit to the astoundingly cool Folger Shakespeare Library in DC!