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Folger Shakespeare Library

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Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Shakespeare Library and theatre with the United States Capitol in the background.
Folger Shakespeare Library is located in Washington, D.C.
Folger Shakespeare Library
Location Washington, D.C.
Built 1929
Architect Cret,Paul P.; Trowbridge,Alexander B.
Architectural style Modern
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 69000294 [1]
Added to NRHP June 23, 1969

The Folger Shakespeare Library is an independent research library on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in the United States. It has the world's largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare, and is a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500–1750). The library was established by Henry Clay Folger in association with his wife, Emily Jordan Folger. It opened in 1932, two years after his death.

The library offers advanced scholarly programs; national outreach to K–12 classroom teachers on Shakespeare education; and plays, music, poetry, exhibits, lectures, and family programs. It also has several publications and is a leader in methods of preserving rare materials.

The library is privately endowed and administered by the Trustees of Amherst College. The library building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Standard Oil of New York president, then chairman of the board, Henry Clay Folger, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College, was an avid collector of Shakespeareana. Toward the end of World War I, he and his wife Emily Jordan Folger began searching for a location for his Shakespeare library. They chose a location adjacent to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.. The land was then occupied by townhouses, and Folger spent several years buying the separate lots. The site was designated for expansion by the Library of Congress, but in 1928 the Congress passed a resolution allowing its use for Folger's project.[2][3][4]

Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Library Theater, circa 1932
Folger Shakespeare Library

The cornerstone of the library was laid in 1930, but Folger died soon afterward. The bulk of Folger's fortune was left in trust, with Amherst College as administrator, for the library. Because of the stock market crash of 1929, Folger's estate was smaller than he had planned, although still substantial. Emily Folger, who had worked with her husband on his collection, supplied the funds to complete the project. The library opened on April 23, 1932, the anniversary of what is believed to be Shakespeare's date of birth. Emily Folger remained involved in its administration until shortly before her death in 1936.[5][6]

The first Director of the Library, from 1940 to 1946, was Joseph Quincy Adams, Jr.[7] Michael Witmore, a scholar and pioneer in the digital analysis of Shakespeare’s texts, became the Folger's seventh director on July 1, 2011.[8]


Statue of Puck

The main Folger building was designed by architect Paul Philippe Cret. The white marble exterior includes nine street-level bas-reliefs of scenes from Shakespeare's plays created by the sculptor John Gregory, a statue of Puck by Brenda Putnam as well as many inscriptions personally selected by Henry Folger. The large Art Deco window and door grilles are aluminum.

Inside, the building is designed in a Tudor style with oak paneling and plaster ceilings. The two reading rooms (one added in the early 1980s) are reserved for use by scholars who have obtained advance permission. Public spaces include the large exhibition gallery, a gift shop, and the Elizabethan theatre.

A second Folger building, the Haskell Center, opened in 2000 across Third Street from the original building. The nineteenth-century office building was adapted by architect Andrew Stephenson Stephenson to house the library's education and public programs staffs.[9]

The Folger grounds include an Elizabethan garden of plantings from Shakespeare's plays or that were commonly used in his day.

Relief sculpture by John Gregory.
Scene from Hamlet


The Folger, with its large collection of Shakespeare-related material, is best known for its 82 copies of the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio, as well as many earlier quartos of his individual plays. Not restricted to Shakespeare, the library holds the world's third largest collection of English books printed before 1641, as well as substantial holdings of continental and later English imprints.[10]

In all, the library collection includes more than 250,000 books, about 55,000 manuscripts (from Elizabeth I and John Donne to Mark Twain and Walt Whitman),[11] 250,000 playbills, and 50,000 works on paper (including prints and photographs).[12][13] It also holds many paintings and sculptures, most related to Shakespeare or his plays.


Folger Shakespeare Library's cultural and arts programs include theater, poetry, concerts, exhibitions, and lectures.

The Folger Theatre performs a three-play season, featuring the works of Shakespeare as well as contemporary plays inspired by his works. Several productions have won a Helen Hayes Award.[14] The Folger Consort, the library's resident early music ensemble, also performs a regular concert program.

The annual PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction readings are held in the Folger's Elizabethan Theatre.

The O. B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize is awarded by the library to a U.S. poet who has published at least one book within the last five years, has made important contributions as a teacher, and is committed to furthering the understanding of poetry.

The Folger Institute organizes academic conferences, symposia, and seminars, as well as summer institutes. The Folger education department holds month-long summer institutes on teaching Shakespeare, as well as workshops around the country.

Folger publications include the Folger Library editions of Shakespeare's plays, the journal Shakespeare Quarterly, the teacher resource books Shakespeare Set Free, and exhibition catalogs.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  2. ^ Ziegler, Georgianna: "Duty and Enjoyment: The Folgers as Shakespeare Collectors in the Gilded Age", Shakespeare in American Life, Virginia and Alden Vaughan (eds.). Washington, D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library, 2007, pages 108-109.
  3. ^ Infinite Variety: Exploring the Folger Shakespeare Library, Esther Ferington (ed.). Washington, D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library (distributed by University of Washington Press, Seattle), 2001, page 16.
  4. ^ Also see "Founding the Library" on Folger website.
  5. ^ Lynch, Kathleen, "Folger, Emily Jordan", American National Biography, John Garraty and Mark Carnes (editors). New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, volume 8, pages 167-168.
  6. ^ Infinite Variety, pages 16-17.
  7. ^ Spauling, Thomas M. (1947). The Literary Society in Peace and War. Washington, D.C.: George Banta Publishing Company. 
  8. ^ "Meet the Director". Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Haskell Center for Education and Public Programs". Folger Shakespeare Library. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  10. ^ Infinite Variety, page 95.
  11. ^ Wolfe, Heather (ed. and compiler), "The Pen's Excellencie": Treasures from the Manuscript Collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library," Washington, D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library (distributed by University of Washington Press, Seattle), 2002, page 10 for total number, pages 51, 151, 183, and 196 for Elizabeth I, Donne, Twain, and Whitman.
  12. ^ "Folger Shakespeare Library", New Encyclopædia Britannica, Chicago: Micropædia, 15th edition, 2007, Volume 4.
  13. ^ Infinite Variety, page 95; see also "The Collection" on the Folger site.
  14. ^ "Helen Hayes Awards and Nominations" list on Folger site

External links

  • Folger Shakespeare Library
  • Hamnet: Folger Shakespeare Library Catalog
  • Shakespeare Quarterly
  • Folger Institute
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