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Title page with Martin Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare. Shakespeare First Folio, 1623. Folger Shakespeare Library.

provided by Folger Shakespeare Library

The University of Montana has been selected to display the most important book from one of history’s most important writers.

Next year, UM will be one of the host sites for a traveling exhibition displaying the William Shakespeare First Folio.

The folio is from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., which has the world’s largest collection of the author’s work. The library has 82 copies of the First Folio. There are 233 known copies in the world, of the estimated 750 that were initially produced in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death.

It is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, and compiles 36 works. Of those, 18 of them – including “Macbeth,” “Julius Caesar,” and “The Tempest” – would have been lost forever if they had not been included in this collection.

Julie Biando Edwards, an associate professor at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, said while terms like “once in a lifetime” are thrown around often, the chance to see an actual Shakespeare folio, not photos or a reproduction, qualifies.

“I had to read the application a few times. I couldn’t believe they are actually sending an actual folio across the country,” she said.

Edwards said when she saw an American Library Association listing to apply to host the folio, she quickly realized the UM library did not have an adequate environment to house the old and delicate document. So she enlisted the help of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture on campus, the place where the folio will be put on display next year.

“We love the relationship between literacy and the theater, cinema and art world that has evolved from the legendary works of Shakespeare,” said Barbara Koostra, the director of the museum.

Koostra said in addition to displaying the folio, the museum will also be picking out literary-related pieces from its extensive collection to present alongside the exhibition.

The MMAC will be the only place in Montana the folio will be put on display during its tour around the country, and Koostra is hopeful that during its stay in Missoula, students and groups from around the state will make the trip to see the historic artifact for themselves.

The folio will be opened up to the “To be or not to be” speech from “Hamlet.”

While UM just found out that it was chosen to host Shakespeare’s folio in 2016, Edwards said they won’t know when it will have the item until April.

Koostra said the museum is no stranger to handling and displaying important works of art, having had exhibitions from artists like Claude Monet in the past.

“We’ve had a number of the greatest artists of all time. Our security and our climate control are ready to handle these projects,” she said.

The month that Shakespeare’s work will be on campus will have a series of events celebrating the author and the power of the written word, and Edwards said she is currently working with campus and community groups to make it a special occasion.

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