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

(Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library)

"Macbeth," "Julius Caesar" and "The Tempest" are some of Shakespeare's most celebrated plays. And if it weren't for the First Folio, the first collected edition of the playwright's work published in 1623, the most authoritative versions of those plays may have been lost for good.

Last week, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. announced the first-ever national touring exhibition of this First Folio. After reviewing hundreds of applicants, the library selected the CU Art Museum at the University of Colorado Boulder as one of the 52 stops on the tour -- and the only stop in Colorado. 

The "First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare" tour will travel to all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico starting in January 2016. Tour organizers will reveal the exact dates this April. 

When the time comes, a copy of the historic folio will reside at the CU Art Museum for four weeks, and it will be opened to display the famous lines from "Hamlet" -- "To be or not to be."

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

(Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library)

The museum's Shakespeare Folio planning committee says the First Folio's stay will coincide with other on-campus exhibitions and events honoring Shakespeare, including a variety of live performances and activities as well as a larger exhibition featuring 16th century books, maps and engravings, Shakespearean-themed work by contemporary artists and a display of Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) production photos, posters and props. 

Six university entities -- the CU Boulder Library's Special Collections, the CU Art Museum, CSF and the Dance and Theatre, English and History departments -- worked together to create a compelling application.

Questions driving the proposed programming included how the reading and casting of Shakespeare's plays have changed over the years and how the dramatist's work relates to issues around gender and ethnicity.

Dan DeSimone, a Folger librarian who oversaw the selection committee, says the CU Boulder application stood out to everyone on the panel.

“The enthusiasm demonstrated by the organizers of the Boulder program was visible in the collaborative nature of the proposed programming, a superlative education component and the strength of the leadership committee,” DeSimone says. “We expect that the people of Colorado will benefit greatly by the programming that will be developed around the visit of Shakespeare’s First Folio."

Shakespeare's colleagues and fellow actors, John Heminge and Hendry Condell, compiled 36 plays into the First Folio with the intention of preserving the works for future generations. 18 of the plays included in the 1623 collection were not published during Shakespeare's lifetime.

According to the Folger Shakespeare Library, Heminge and Condell originally published 750 copies of the First Folio and, the D.C. library houses 82 of the 233 known existing copies in the world today.