Our in-person box office is temporarily operating from the University Theatre building May 23 and 24. Find out more

The Book of Will

The Book of Will

Loading
Jul 29-Aug 6, 2022

The Book of Will

Good friends are behind all good stories. And good stories make for good lives.

"Not of an age, but for all time." So reads the posthumous tribute to Shakespeare in the First Folio, the first-ever published compilation of the playwright's work. An evocative love letter to one of theatre's greats, "The Book of Will" tells the heartfelt and hilarious true story of the artists and friends who undertook the herculean effort to publish the Bard's plays in the wake of his death.

Since 1958, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival has delighted audiences with professional theatre on the CU Boulder campus. Complete your Colorado summer with Shakespeare under the stars in the historic Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre—complimentary seatbacks included.

View program

Weather policy

Attending an outdoor show in the Boulder foothills can be unpredictable. Come prepared to enjoy the adventure by reviewing our weather policy and attire suggestions. Learn more

Performance dates and times

Friday, July 29, 8 p.m.  $22-$69
Saturday, July 30, 8 p.m.  $26-$81
Friday, Aug. 5, 8 p.m.  $22-$69
Saturday, Aug. 6, 8 p.m.  $26-$81

View full CSF 2022 calendar

Buying options and discounts

Save big with season tickets! This show is available in the Full, Pick 2 or 3, Weekday Will, and Choice Option packages or as an add-on to other season ticket orders. Learn more

Single ticket discounts are available for preview night, groups (10+), youth (K-12), seniors (65+), students, active military and CU employees. Volunteer ushers get to see the show for free. Learn more

More about the show

Read more

Plot Synopsis

It’s 1619, Shakespeare has been dead three years, and the surviving members of his company (Richard Burbage, John Heminges and Henry Condell) have just endured a truly abysmal performance of Hamlet. They bemoan the bastardization of their dear departed friend’s play at John’s bar, the Globe Tap House, while playwright and poet laureate Ben Jonson attempts to flirt with Alice Heminges, alewife and John’s daughter. Burbage delivers an impromptu performance of Shakespeare’s greatest hits, then exits the bar. The next morning, they learn Burbage has died in the night. Alice, John, Henry, and their wives Rebecca and Elizabeth are horrified to realize that many of Shakespeare’s plays may have died with Burbage and his prodigious memory. After Burbage’s funeral they hatch a plot to collect Will’s plays and publish them together in one volume.

They soon discover the immense challenges facing the project. Despite the handful of actor sides (incomplete scripts) buried in corners of their homes and a few scripts in the possession of Ralph Crane, the company’s scribe, many of the plays exist in unauthorized (and unreliable) quartos or not at all. Ed Knight, the company’s prompter (and script-keeper), reminds them how many scripts were lost in a fire at the Globe a few years ago. There’s not enough money, they don’t have rights, and no one will print it—except William Jaggard, the hated, unscrupulous printer who’s made a career of stealing Shakespeare’s work. (His son, Isaac, promises fidelity to the words of his favorite playwright.) 

As they struggle to get the book printed, the intrepid team faces new challenges, strange bedfellows and unimaginable personal losses. The stakes grow higher to preserve the plays of their dear friend Will, whose words give voice to their rage, bring a little light when the world grows dark, and provide solace when life offers none. 

—Heidi Schmidt, dramaturg

Director's note

What would our world look like without the words of William Shakespeare? A world without the literary works we know as Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III or King Lear? I would be hard pressed to find any avid theatregoer, especially a Shakespeare aficionado, who could imagine a world without Shakespeare’s words. But that’s where we find ourselves in this fictional retelling of a “what if” scenario in the play that is The Book of Will.

I will confess to you that Shakespeare and his plays have had a huge impact on my personal and professional life. This play, to me, has become in many ways the ultimate “love letter” to all actors, theatregoers and acting companies who love Shakespeare’s work as much as I do.

What I love most about this play are the additional names we learn from Shakespeare’s world and his band of theatre members: John Heminges, William Condell, Ed Knight, Ralph Crane, William and Isaac Jaggard—all names you may not have heard of before but were crucial individuals who led the charge to preserve Shakespeare’s work. 

When we begin this play, Shakespeare has been dead for three years and his brethren continue to mourn him. But what comes after death? While this play is about Shakespeare, its plot laser focuses on a grand problem: How do we preserve Shakespeare’s work? How can we honor our friend? How do we keep his language alive?

The undertaking of compiling a first folio of an entire canon of plays seemed an insurmountable task which required action, desire, fortitude and—like all great plays—presented tangible obstacles. I am excited to present this new story about William Shakespeare and the journey it took to collect, produce and print what we now know as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

As you will see in tonight’s performance, doing so was not an easy task. I ask you, the audience, to continue to consider, “what if….”

I’m thrilled to share and celebrate this new work with you. To Will!

 —Rodney Lizcano, director

This production contains some adult language.