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POEMS 1980








The Folger Shakespeare Library, in partnership with the American Library Association and the Cincinnati Museum Center, is touring an original copy of “The First Folio” of Shakespeare's plays throughout the United States in 2016.  The Tweed Museum of Art (at the University of Minnesota in Duluth) will be the only exhibition site in the state of Minnesota.

Tweed Museum has been closed to the public for several months, as the museum itself has been renovated for the display of “The First Folio.”  The insurance rules-and-specifications have been exacting.  The ventilation and other systems have been re-shaped and re-designed.

“The First Folio” was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death.  This Folio is composed of over thirty of his most famous plays, including Julius Caesar and Macbeth.  The Folger Library holds the world's largest array of First Folios, of which 82 are in its collections.



After the American Civil War, the port city of Duluth was regarded as being a frontier settlement, an outpost before the terrible wilderness of “The Great Northwest.”  At that time the city was largely populated by lumberjacks and timber-cruisers, mineral explorers and miners, publicans, dockers and wharfies, trappers, surveyors, scouts, and whore-masters.

One day in the hurly-burly of that frontier, Plunkett's Theatrical Company arrived by lake-steamer at the port.  The actors unloaded their sets, props, and costumes.  Mr. Plunkett himself announced to the public that it was their intention to be the very first dramatic troupe to perform ALL of Shakespeare's plays at this remote wilderness town.

“The Theatre Shack,” the largest auditorium in Duluth at the time, was made ready.  Mr. Plunkett, with all the wild flare of P.T. Barnum, introduced the first play of their cycle, which would be “Othello.”  Trumpets were sounded, and the actors sweated their way from scene to scene.  But, as “The Willow Scene” began, a fist-fight broke out in the audience.  Soon this duel with fists and knives became a much more collective brawl.  Later, the brawl exploded out of “The Theatre Shack” and became, for three-nights and three-days, a fully-fledged riot, a bloody riot throughout the downtown of Duluth.

Newspapers across the United States and Canada reported “The Great Shakespeare Riots” in Duluth, Minnesota.  Plunkett and his actors, grappling with their baggage and props, fled by steam-ship to Chicago, never to return.

Mark Twain, for several years, in his own stage-show, had great fun with Mr. Plunkett, the wild frontier, Shakespeare, and Duluth.  Mark Twain, in his own inimitable style, slapped his knee, and laughed and laughed.

[For additional information about “The Great Shakespeare Riots” in Duluth, see THE DULUTH PLAYHOUSE by Dr. Fred W. Meitzer — 1966, Ohio State University.  Also, for contrast, see The Shakespeare Riots : revenge, drama, and death in nineteenth-century America by Nigel Cliff, published in 2007 by Random House at New York, New York; and The Shakespeare Wars : clashing scholars, public fiascoes, palace coups by Ron Rosenbaum, published in 2006 also by Random House.]



Throughout the world there have been, and continue to be, theatre superstitions about Shakespeare's MACBETH.  Any production of the play brings particular “bad luck.”  Everybody knows this.  However, in Duluth ANY production of ANY Shakespeare play is regarded as being very jinxed and unlucky.  Any such production will succumb to nothing but “bad luck” and Plunkett's Curse.  Thus there have been very few productions of these plays in Duluth during the last 150 years.



ARCHIVES & SPECIAL COLLECTIONS of The Kathryn A. Martin Library at UMD, in contrast to the touring copy of “The First Folio” soon to be displayed at the Tweed Museum of Art, have prepared an exhibition of their own, in the Ramseyer Display Cases on the Fourth Floor of the Library.  This exhibition indicates the scant record of performances of Shakespeare's plays in the city of Duluth.

The archivists searched back to the 1930s to find two productions of Shakespeare plays by The Duluth Playhouse.  (Those efforts were derived from two sensational productions on Broadway, one directed by Orson Welles and the other directed by Max Reinhardt.)  Also, several productions by UMD Theatre have been documented in this A & SC Library exhibition.

However, one focus for the Ramseyer Display is a series of Shakespeare plays performed during the 1970s and 1980s by BLACKTHORN THEATER, under the artistic direction of Séamas Cain.  Included in the exhibit are posters, news releases and other publicity materials, correspondence, programs, scenarios, scripts, photographs, the director's notes, reviews, etc., etc.

Blackthorn Theater was/is an avantgarde theater.  It was/is defined as being an Imagist Theater, in which the making and presenting of image takes precedence over “acting.”

Blackthorn Theater discarded superstitions, conventionalities, and clichés.


But what happens when the cultural establishment abandons the “classics”?

What happens when the avantgarde takes hold of the discarded “classics”?



Now the original copy of “The First Folio” has traveled away from the Tweed Museum of Art.

However, the “SHAKESPEARE IN DULUTH” exhibition in the Ramseyer Display Cases will continue through Winter 2017.

For additional information, please contact Archives & Special Collections at ...



Tomorrow and tomorrow,

Séamas Cain