WASHINGTON — In the words of King Lear, today we learn “who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out.”

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington has selected the sites for its most ambitious exhibition ever: a traveling tour of First Folios that will stop in every state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the 2016 tour has been designed in partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association.

Hundreds of hopeful libraries, museums, historical societies and other cultural venues submitted applications for a chance to host a free four-week display of a First Folio from the Folger’s incomparable collection. Thursday morning, the winners were announced, and the Portland Public Library was among them.

In Washington, Gallaudet University earned the honor of displaying the Folger’s traveling First Folio, one of the most valuable printed books in the world. In Maryland, the book will stop at St. John’s College in Annapolis. And Virginians can see the First Folio at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Like the United States Senate, the design of this tour favors the population of small states. Almost everyone in tiny Rhode Island will be within walking distance of the First Folio visiting Brown University in Providence. But millions of Californians will have to travel hundreds of miles south to see the rare book in San Diego, where the public library will be hosting the First Folio with the Old Globe, one of the nation’s oldest Shakespeare theaters.

Still buried in more than 100 inches of snow, fans of the Bard in Boston learned that their city lost out to Amherst College in western Massachusetts. But Garland Scott, head of external relations at the Folger Library, notes that “there’s something fitting about taking a First Folio back to Amherst, where, as a college senior, our founder, Henry Clay Folger, Jr., heard Emerson speak and was inspired to read Shakespeare again, thus planting the seed for a lifetime of collecting.”


New Yorkers will be able to see the First Folio at the New-York Historical Society.

In Washington State, the 400-year-old book will be on display at the Seattle Public Library, “a library that many consider to be the model for public libraries in the 21st century,” Scott says.

Folger director Michael Witmore is pleased that when the book visits Minnesota, “the fabulous indie band Low from Duluth is going to provide music for a screening of Shakespeare 100-year-old silent films.” If music be the food of love, tour on!

The First Folio traveling from the Folger to Michigan should feel right at home. It’ll be moving from one building designed by Paul Philippe Cret to another, the Detroit Institute of Arts.

In partnership with the American Library Association, the Folger looked for applicants who could provide creative public programs, support from local scholars and community organizations, and appropriate security. (When a First Folio comes up for auction, which rarely happens, it sells for more than $5 million.) All in all, the Folger’s First Folios will stop at 23 museums, 20 universities, five public libraries, three historical societies and one theater.

The First Folio, published in 1623 by two of the playwright’s colleagues, is so important because it’s the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. It contains 36 scripts and is the original source for such immortal works as “Macbeth,” “Julius Caesar,” “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest.” Of the 750 copies believed to have been originally published, 233 survive today, and the Folger owns 82.

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