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See the Rare Collection of Shakespeare’s Plays at Kapi‘olani Community College

William Shakespeare’s First Folio will be on display at Kapi‘olani Community College’s Lama library from April 25 through May 25.


Shakespeare Kapiolani Community College

Young Siward (Rachael Uyeno) is about to find out that challenging Macbeth (UH Mānoa theater department head Paul Mitri) is not such a good idea. 
Photo: Stephen Fong 


With the clash of swords in the Lama Library, a rare first edition of William Shakespeare’s plays announced its arrival at Kapi‘olani Community College on Monday night.


The legendary First Folio certainly deserved a grand entrance. The first collected plays of the man whose works have been performed by the world’s greatest actors—including Edwin Booth in 19th century Hawai‘i—the Folio is also the only source for 18 plays that likely would’ve been lost, including Macbeth, The Tempest, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. How it got here makes for quite a story, especially since KCC is the only community college in the U.S. to host a stop of a 50-state tour of First Folio: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, hosted by The Folger Shakespeare Library in conjunction with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association. 


Finding a moment alone with the First Folio, University of Hawai‘i president David Lassner ponders the “to be or not to be” speech from Hamlet
Photo: Don Wallace 


Now it’s here for a month, accompanied by a sumptuous display of art, posters, Elizabethan gowns and costumes, and Hawaiian- and English-language Island newspaper accounts. “The Folger Shakespeare Library contacted several institutions here about hosting the exhibit,” Mark Lawhorn explained to a crowd that included University of Hawai‘i president David Lassner, Roger Jellinek of the Hawai‘i Book & Music Festival, a goodly number of professors of literature and English, and cameo appearances by Beatrice and Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing), Ariel and Prospero (The Tempest) and Young Siward, skewered by a contemptuous Macbeth (sword-played by Paul Mitri, chairman of the UH Mānoa department of theater and dance).


Shakespeare Kapiolani Community College

Photo: Don Wallace 


But: “It almost didn’t happen,” said Project Director Lawhorn. “For various reasons, mostly having to do with meeting the Folger’s stringent security and preservation requirements, no one could do it.” That was when Lawhorn, associate professor of languages, linguistics and literature at KCC, put out a call to lovers of letters, including internationally recognized Shakespeare scholar and UH-Mānoa professor emeritus Valerie Wayne and her husband, author and ad executive Richard Tillotson. “This exhibit is going to 50 states—not 49,” he recalls vowing.


“Fools rush in. We were the fools.” But fools are a favorite staple of Shakespeare’s plays, of course. Working feverishly, Lawhorn and his team somehow made the Lama Library Folio-ready, satisfying the Folger’s strict requirements, working with Folger curator Austin Plann Curley and library director Susan Kazama. To help meet the many security upgrades, sponsorships were found and the 393-year-old volume was on its way.


Shakespeare Kapiolani Community College

“Fools rush in,” says Mark Lawhorn, project director and KCC professor, with Shakespeare scholar Valerie Wayne; both dove in and rallied the community to bring the exhibit to Hawai‘i. 
Photo: Don Wallace 


Falling in the 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s birthday, the decision to tour the First Folio has proved wildly popular across the nation, underscoring not only the bearded Bard’s longevity but also his enduring impact on America. Long lines to catch a glimpse of the collection, printed seven years after his death in 1623 by John Heminges and Henry Condell, are not a modern phenomenon: Itinerant actors were giving open-air and big-top performances by 1750. “There is hardly a pioneer’s hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” wrote Alexis de Toqueville in 1830. In New York City, an 1849 battle between rival fans of actors famed for their Hamlets left 25 dead—giving a whole new twist on the phrase “Killing it on Broadway.”


What you’ll see at KCC is one of the 82 copies owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.; of the first printing of 750, there are known to be 233 copies. At 900 pages, the large-format pages are a direct link to Shakespeare. Some of the 36 plays are rough versions straight from Shakespeare’s pen, others marked-up versions from an actor’s prompt book—the prompter being hidden from the audience’s sight but ready to give lines in case they were forgotten.


Shakespeare Kapiolani Community College

Photo: Stephen Fong 


Among the exhibit attractions are six panels and interactive displays, a first-floor exhibit of Shakespeare Comes to Hawai‘i and a spoken translation of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy into Hawaiian by Puakea Nogelmeier—despite there being no verb for “to be” in Hawaiian, according to the puckish Nogelmeier.


For the next month, until May 25, the public is welcome to tread the boards. Hours for the free exhibit: Monday through Thursday from 2:00 p.m. to 6 p.m. and, on Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.—the latter ideal for a post-KCC Farmers Market audition, perhaps wearing a leek in your cap like Fluellen in Henry V.


First Folio: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, Lama Library, Kapi‘olani Community College, Monday through Thursday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Friday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., kapiolani.hawaii.edu




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