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400-Year-Old 'Book That Brought Us Shakespeare' Displayed At Seattle's Library

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The First Folio -- the 1623 book that was the first time Shakespeare's plays appeared in print -- is on display at the Seattle Public Library through April 17.

The book that put the plays of William Shakespeare into print for the very first time, nearly 400 years ago, is on display now at the Seattle Public Library. Many historians believe without it, we would not know about half of Shakespeare’s plays. KPLU’s Ed Ronco went to take a look, and he enlisted some help.

Amy Thone is the director of casting at Seattle Shakespeare. She teaches Shakespeare at the college and university level. And over her career, she's played some of the playwright's most iconic roles. For students and teachers of Shakespeare's work, like Thone, seeing the First Folio is an emotional experience. Listen:

Shakespeare’s First Folio is on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and on display at the Seattle Public Library in downtown Seattle, through April 17. Admission to see it is free, but you need to reserve a ticket to get in.

Interview Highlights

First impressions on seeing the book: "I’m thinking about the devotion [of] the two men in Shakespeare’s company who decided to do this crazy thing. Their decision five or six years after their friend William Shakespeare had died is remarkable to me. That act of devotion and vision is mostly what I’m thinking about right now. And that 18 of these plays that I love so much – Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest – would be gone. Potentially, other sources would have surfaced. But they haven’t.”

Credit Ed Ronco / KPLU
For Amy Thone -- an actress, casting director, and teacher of Shakespeare's work -- seeing the First Folio was emotional.

On why it's so moving: “Plays are human. Plays are deep. I think theater is the most human of art forms. One of the reasons it will never fully die is because there is a power of being in the room with other people who are having an experience in real time. That book is peopled richly, and is for people – for ears and for mouths.”

On Shakespeare's writing style: "He wrote with this heartbeat. And lots of syncopation. ... It’s like jazz. There is the square beat underneath it that sort of holds it together, and then there’s lots of improvisational syncopated rhythm. When we get too worried about what it means and it’s cranial, we lose some of the fun.”

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.