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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: March 2, 2016

Earliest-known collection of Shakespeare’s plays comes to Portland

Written by: Bob Keyes
Shakespeare’s First Folio

There are 233 surviving copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Photo courtesy of the Shakespeare Folger Library

William Shakespeare’s handiwork is all over the First Folio, but not his fingerprints.

The First Folio was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare died. Two of his actors, concerned that his plays might disappear if they were not preserved, compiled 36 of them and had them published in a single volume. Eighteen of those plays, including several of his best known, might have been lost had they not been included. The First Folio is the original source for “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar,” among others.

Beginning Friday, the Portland Public Library will display a copy of the First Folio. The delicate relic from an earlier era of bookbinding will be displayed under unusually tight security in a room off Lewis Gallery. It will be open to a page in “Hamlet” that includes one of the most widely known passages in all of literature: “To be, or not to be, that is the Question …”

The gallery itself will be filled with display panels and text to place Shakespeare and his work in context.

The exhibition is part of a national tour arranged by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., which owns 82 of the surviving 233 copies. Scholars believe fewer than 750 books were originally published.

Eighteen of books owned by the Folger will tour the United States this year.

Shakespeare’s First Folio

Reading room at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. Photo courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library

In Portland, the arrival of the book gives Maine’s cultural community a reason to celebrate a seminal figure in world literature, drama and scholarship, and they’re going to have fun doing it. Shakespeare is inherently hip. His plays still matter because he’s funny, irreverent and in touch with the spectrum of human emotions.

Portland’s Shakespeare celebration includes a First Friday mash-up of “Hamlet,” poetry slams, Bard book clubs and a mythical and magical creature workshop for families, inspired by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

More than 20 theater companies will perform, and there are concerts with period music, plus movies.

“We’ve made a conscious attempt to create events that appeal to a broad range of people, from little kids to teens to people who think Shakespeare isn’t for them, to people who are real Shakespeare fans,” said Emily Levine, development and external relations director at the library. “Since we are a public library, we are conscious of our role in providing a neutral and open space, where people from all parts of the community can come and find something that appeals to them.”

Levine expects a festive atmosphere for Friday’s opening. The Society for Creative Anachronism will re-create Shakespeare-era sword fights in the library atrium from 6 to 7 p.m.. The line to see the book may snake up the stairs from the Lewis Gallery, but it should move quickly – and there will be food.

There also will be “Hamlet.”

“Pop-Up Hamlet” is PortFringe’s irreverent spin on Shakespeare, with 20 theater companies performing randomly selected scenes from “Hamlet” however they want – with puppets, dance, music or anything else. There are two rules: There’s a 10-minute time limit, and there has to be at least one line from the original text of “Hamlet.”

The companies will perform from 6 to 7:30 p.m. during First Friday at locations indoors and outdoors across the Arts District, including the library, restaurants, bars and shops. At 8:30 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Portland Stage Company, all 20 scenes will be performed in order and in rapid-fire succession in one setting. Admission is $10.

“We don’t know what it will be like, but we know it will be fun,” said Deirdre Fulton, PortFringe founding committee member. “We wanted to give companies the chance to experiment and do something crazy, much like PortFringe gives people a chance to go wild. But we wanted to make sure we are honoring the spirit of why we are doing the event in the first place, which is to celebrate this seminal book.”

“First Folio: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare”

will be on view at the Portland Public Library from March 4 to April 2 during regular library hours. The library has arranged dozens of events to coincide with the display of the book, which was published in 1623 and compiled 36 Shakespeare plays. For details, visit

TO LEARN MORE about the First Folio and the Folger Shakespeare Library, visit

HERE ARE NINE OTHER ideas for celebrating Shakespeare in March, theatrically and otherwise:

Bare Portland presents a 90-minute version of “Macbeth” with a four-women cast at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St. Tickets are $10 at the door. The actors will portray all the roles in a stripped-down, streamlined fashion. Performances are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 12; 7:30 p.m. March 13 and March 17-18; 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 19; and 7:30 p.m. March 20. St. Luke’s is just about perfect for “Macbeth.” “Anytime you are telling a story that is of grand scale, it helps to be in a grand location,” said JJ Peeler, who plays Macbeth. “When I am delivering lines about damnation, it’s really prescient when you are standing right next to an altar or right next to a crucifix.” Bare Portland also will present the play March 26 in a barn at 182 Ridge Road, Bowdoinham; 6:30 p.m. potluck, 7:30 p.m. show; $10 admission.

Portland Shakespeare Company stages the historical tragedy “Richard II” in the Emmanuel Chapel at St. Luke’s, beginning March 31. James Neal Hoban directs an A-list Portland cast that includes Ian Carlsen as the vain ruler, Corey Gagne, Matt Delamater, James Herrera, Mike Kimball, Maureen Butler and others. This is a true telling of the original story. Written entirely in verse, “Richard II” deals with religion, politics and dynasty. And like “Macbeth” before it, “Richard II” will benefit from its setting in the intimate chapel at the back of St. Luke’s. The space conjures both an English court and a theater in the round, Hoban said. “It seemed like an ideal setting for this particular play, which centers on the divine right of kings,” he said. It will be richly costumed, and actors will rely on the setting to set the tone.

This will be a full production, at two-plus hours with an intermission. “We are going to revel in the fullness of the story and text,” Hoban said. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. March 31-April 2; 2 p.m. April 3; 7:30 p.m. April 6; 7:30 p.m. April 8; 3 p.m. April 9; and 2 p.m. April 10; $20 at the door or online at

Pie Man Theatre Company presents “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” at Mayo Street Arts, beginning March 15. It’s a story of ambition, jealousy and the politics of resentment. Pie Man co-founders Josh Brassard and Stephanie Ross direct. “It’s amazing to me how relevant ‘Julius Caesar’ still is to our modern political climate,” Brassard said in a press release. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. March 15-16 and March 18; 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 19; 5 p.m. March 20; 7:30 p.m. March 23-25; and 2 and 7:30 p.m. March 26; $15 at the door;

The Theater at Monmouth will present a six-character, female-heavy version of “Henry V” at 1 and 7 p.m. March 25 in the library’s Rines Auditorium. Monmouth’s 70-minute performance originally toured to Maine schools, community centers and universities, exploring a novice ruler’s struggle with leadership. It’s a primer for this summer’s full production at Monmouth,

The Portland Public Library has a nice collection of Shakespeare movies and movies inspired by or related to Shakespeare. A film version of a play by Tom Stoppard, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” will be screened at 6:30 p.m. March 8 in Rines Auditorium. This is the story of “Hamlet,” told by two minor characters. “Deliver Us from Eva” will be screened at 6:30 p.m. March 14. LL Cool J and Gabrielle Union star in this romantic comedy adapted from “The Taming of the Shrew.” “Othello,” starring Laurence Fishburne with Kenneth Branagh and Irene Jacob, will screen at 6:30 p.m. March 23. The series concludes with “Hamlet” at noon March 26, in this Kenneth Branagh-directed version in which he also stars.

 Shakespeare Slam!, 5:30 p.m. March 16, The library will host the First Folio Shakespeare Slam!, a recitation contest open to both teen and adult solo and group performers. There are rules – and prizes.

 Thursday with the Bard Book Group, 6 to 7 p.m. March 10, 17, 24 and 31 in the downtown library. The book group will read and discuss a different play each week: “Much Ado About Nothing,” March 10; “Hamlet,” March 17; “Twelfth Night,” March 24; and “King Lear,” March 31.

 “Conjuring Bodies: The Physical Poetics of Lady Macbeth and Puck,” 7 p.m. March 28, Rines Auditorium. Dana Wieluns Legawiec, founding member of Ziggurat Theatre and artistic associate of the Bath and Camden Shakespeare festivals, performs a one-woman juxtaposition of two of Shakespeare’s most dynamic characters.

 “Shakespeariment: Interactive Workshop for Children,” 3 p.m. March 26, Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library. Kids will create their own stories for stage, with improvisational games and literacy challenges.

For more on the Bard, read Shakespeare’s First Folio, by the numbers

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