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2023-2024: A Campuswide Exhibit

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s plays (1623). At the W. E. B. Du Bois Library, the Shakespeare Unbound exhibit asks: what happens when Shakespeare appears in fragments or as momentary flashes in history? With selections from the Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives Research Center, the works of W. E. B. Du Bois, Phillis Wheatley, and others are joined in conversation with William Shakespeare. This exhibit explores stories of Shakespeare unbound and rebound, scattered and gathered together into new assemblages across place and time. 

At the Kinney Center, A Noble Fragment is the first of many exhibits that will rotate throughout the academic year. It tells the story of the print revolution in Renaissance Europe and the emergence of the book in its modern form. The exhibit’s title derives from publications in the 1920s that marketed leaves from damaged and disbound copies of the Gutenberg Bible (1454-1455) and Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623), iconic artifacts in the history of printing, under the title A Noble Fragment.  The fragments of this exhibit remind us that books are unmade as well as made: they come apart over time, but they are also often reassembled and repurposed in ways that leave traces of that history on their pages. The exhibition concludes with a copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio (1632), an important version of the most iconic gathering of “noble fragments” in English literature.


Shakespeare Unbound is made possible through a private collection of rare books generously on loan to the University in honor of the collector’s life-long friendship with former UMass Amherst Professor Pieter Elgers. This extraordinary collection contains extracts from the First Folio, copies of three other early folio editions of the plays (1632, 1663, 1685), Shakespeare’s Poems (1640), and a diverse array of materials that trace the history of Shakespeare’s plays—on page, stage, and film—from the Restoration through to the Twentieth Century.

Prof. Joe Black | Department of English
Kirstin Kay | Mark H. McCormack Archivist for Sport Innovation
Prof. Marjorie Rubright | Director, Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies