400 Years of the First Folio: Shakespeare in Chicago

In 1623, The First Folio of Shakespeare was published by Isaac Jaggard under the supervision of two of Shakespeare's friends and company members, John Heminges and Henry Condell. The First Folio is considered the best source for almost all of Shakespeare's plays and the only source for some of them. To celebrate 400 years of this seminal work, we're highlighting some significant productions of Shakespeare's plays.

The images in the gallery above, from our Chicago Theater Collection, mention Edwin Booth, who was part of an esteemed acting family that included his nefarious brother, John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln. Edwin tried to live down the notoriety by focusing on his work. He frequently played in Chicago, helped in part by his marriage to the daughter of James Hubert McVicker, owner of one of the premier venues in Chicago. Edwin Booth specialized in playing tragic roles, including Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello (occasionally alternating with another actor to play Iago).

While Court Theatre wasn't established until 1955, one of the first Shakespeare performances held on the University of Chicago campus was a revue of "forest scenes" from As You Like It, featuring a very young Sydney Greenstreet in 1905. This was done under the auspices of the Ben Greet Players (image of a program above). One of Court Theatre's first productions would be Twelfth Night, or, What You Will. Court has produced a great deal of the Bard over its history and continues to mount productions rather frequently.

The Goodman Theater would also produce Shakespeare early in its history, with A Midsummer Night's Dream being mounted in 1926 as part of the Goodman's first season. As You Like It and Twelfth Night were part of the second season at the theater. Closer to the present day, the recently retired, acclaimed Robert Falls regularly directed Shakespeare, including well-received productions of Measure for Measure and The Winter's Tale.

Shakespeare has also been a stalwart of off-Loop theaters. Harry J. Lennix directed Julius Caesar for Bailiwick Repertory mounted the notoriously difficult Pericles early in its history. Mike Halberstam conceived of a riff on Romeo and Juliet, also for Bailiwick, called Romeo and Julius. A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor were part of the early history of Pegasus Players.

Shakespeare has a lively history in Chicago. Partly because of a guaranteed audience, partly because of the lack of copyright issues and partly just for the challenge, he is a favorite of young and established theater companies alike. Request an appointment to view our collections for material on these and other productions of the Sweet Swan of Avon.