First Folio title page with the famous Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare.

(Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library)

If it weren't for a book known as the First Folio, many of William Shakespeare's plays might have been forgotten, including "Julius Caesar," "Macbeth" and "The Tempest."

Released in 1623 by two of Shakespeare's actors, John Heminge and Hendry Condell, the First Folio is the first published edition of Shakespeare's theatrical work. It compiles three dozen plays, 18 of which were never published during the playwright's lifetime. 

The first national tour of this celebrated book, "First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare," began earlier this year. It stops in Boulder and, starting Tuesday, Aug. 9, will be on view at the CU Art Museum at the University of Colorado Boulder. The historic folio stays at the museum through Aug. 31.

CU Boulder has been preparing for the Folio's arrival. In April, organizers hosted a birthday/death day party for Shakespeare on campus. The celebrations included a “Guess that Shakespeare” game and a Shakespeare Insult Generator.  Many people think Shakespeare was a genius at writing insults, and the generator rearranges some of his famous digs into new ones, such as "Thou beetle-headed, motley-minded maggot-pie." Those visiting the First Folio will be able to make their own Shakespearean insults.

While the university is having some fun with its welcome, the First Folio is a "sacred relic," says Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. 

"It's one of those precious physical things that connects us with something we can never touch again," says Witmore. "It's one of the most valuable books in the world."

The Folger Shakespeare Library has the world's largest collection of First Folios, 82 to be exact, and keeps them under lock and key.

"There's a very large bank vault door that takes two people to open and close," says Witmore. "There's an elevator that takes you several stories underground."

The tour has stops in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. On the tour, the First Folio is opened to an iconic scene from "Hamlet."

“To be or not to be” (Act 3, Scene 1) from Hamlet. First Folio. London, 1623.

(Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library)

"When you think about the tens of thousands of people who are going to come face-to-face with the 'To be, or not to be' speech, one of the most famous speeches ever written, we want to make sure that the next William Shakespeare, the next Emily Dickinson, the next Toni Morrison has that opportunity to see this book and be inspired by it," says Witmore.

The First Folio arrives just as the Colorado Shakespeare Festival wraps its summer season. Festival director Timothy Orr says many of the actors plan to see it.

"It’s simply amazing to think that such an important piece of history, and the foundation of the work we do at Colorado Shakespeare Festival, will be here at the CU Boulder campus," he says.

Even if  people can't always understand Shakespeare's language, Witmore says the plots are evident and relevant.

"I think he's a writer that still speaks to us today," says Witmore. "Whether you're a leader who is making tough choices, you're Henry V and you're going to face your Agincourt; or if you're someone who's getting bad advice, you're like Othello and you have to resist because you will meet your Iago. It's that ability, those stories, to keep speaking back to us that makes Shakespeare such a powerful writer."

(Courtesy Hadley Kamminga-Peck)

 Hadley Kamminga-Peck is the university's First Folio project manager. She led the preparations and organized the Shakespeare Insult Generator. Kamminga-Peck spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.