Turning the earliest pages of Shakespeare

When I visited the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library with my Shakespeare class, I expected to peer at a few valuable books under plexiglass, closely guarded by watchful curators. But I was so wrong. When I walked into the room beneath the Beinecke’s famous marble-windowed tower, my heart skipped at the sight of dozens of early folios, quartos, and relevant manuscripts in foam cradles, open for us undergrads to touch and read. There were no velvet railings, white gloves, or plexiglass shields to distance us from the text. Literary history was at our fingertips.

Shakespeare @ the Beinecke

Among the books assembled were the three first folios (the earliest volume worth over $10 million), several quartos, and even a contemporary music manuscript from Much Ado about Nothing.

Professor David Kastan gave us a short tour of the texts, then set us free to page through the volumes. As the Beinecke’s curators told us during our visit, “it’s not everywhere you get to touch books like this. They are valuable and fragile, but we believe it’s essential for Yale’s students to be able to access the texts in the way they were meant to be viewed: by hand.”