Greg Doran is on a mission: to view as many copies of Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies as possible. “You might think, ‘What the hell are you doing going around the world seeing 235 copies of the same book?’” said Doran, the artistic director emeritus of the Royal Shakespeare Company, when he visited in September. His response: “Each of them has a really interesting and different story.” The University’s collection, provided by the library of James C. Colgate (Class of 1884) himself, is no exception.

Doran’s visit was organized into two interactive sessions. He first joined visitors at Four Folios Fest, an opportunity for students to view, gently touch, and even smell the “smoky” folios (said to be once displayed on a fireplace mantle).

The fest was organized by Special Collections Librarian Xena Becker and the Special Collections and University Archives team.

“I wanted to give students the chance to be in the room with the folios, especially at the same time as Doran, since he’s seen countless copies of them,” Becker said.

Afterward, Doran delivered a presentation for students and faculty members from the Department of English. Department Chair Lynn Staley introduced him as a “legend in theater history,” and Doran then divulged a lifetime of anecdotes about his career.

He got his knack for Shakespeare in his childhood, when the “bug bit,” Doran said. “I used to walk out onto the salt marshes and say Lady Macbeth’s words aloud to the cows…. I felt empowered by those words.”

In his later career as a director, Doran continued to relate Shakespeare’s words to a modern context. “There’s no such thing as a definitive production of Shakespeare,” he explained. “You can only do it with the actors you have, the audience you have, and the time that you’re in.”

Many of the four folios, too, are marked with their own personalities. On his tour, Doran has seen everything from muddy paw prints to confessions of love marked inside. Colgate’s copies are marked, too: “There are scribbles in the copy you [Colgate] have, with someone just trying out their [pen] nib, or something,” said Doran.

Another defining aspect of Colgate’s Four Folio collection is a portrait of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, which Becker claims is the only of its kind.

“It [Hathaway’s portrait] was drawn by Nathaniel Curzon, who was married to Sarah Penn, who was William Penn of Pennsylvania’s daughter. So it was once the Curzon family’s copy of the third folio,” says Becker.

Whether preserved in print or performed on the stage, these works resonate with readers, audiences, and directors, even 400 years later, Doran concluded.

“Shakespeare’s plays are just like a magnet that attracts all the iron filings of what’s going on in the world,” he said. ”Somehow, they articulate those things in ways that I find uncanny.”