The Folger Shakespeare Library is more than just a library. It is a museum devoted to Shakespeare’s legacy, a lively center for the literary and performing arts and a center for the revitalization of the humanities. The theatre inside the building offers a variety of plays and music ensembles that emanate the times and lives of people during Shakespearean times.
The Folger Shakespeare Library is an independent research library established in 1932. It is a gift to the American people from Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily. Both Folgers were avid Shakespeare fans and collected artifacts from the Elizabethan period. The library contains the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, including one third of the 240 original folios of Shakespeare’s work. The library also features other rare Renaissance books and manuscripts on a variety of disciplines from history and politics to law and art.
One of the most unique stops on the museum tour is the Great Hall. In Elizabethan times every upper-class house had a great hall in which children could play and adults could walk. The houses in Elizabethan times were cold and clammy and people needed a place where they could move about to keep warm.
The Great Hall at the Folger displays different exhibits throughout the year. The current exhibit is titled A Decade of Collecting: Celebrating Ten Years of Acquisitions. Some displays include a portrait of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and a exhibit on Sarah Kemble Siddons. Siddons was an actress in the late 1700s and early 1800s who received high acclaim for her roles as Lady Macbeth, Queen Catherine (Henry VIII) and Volumnia (Coriolanus). Some of Shakespeare’s folios are also on display in the Great Hall.
The tour also includes the Shakespeare Gallery. A new addition to the library, the gallery is an interactive computer that showcases some of the Folger’s most precious treasures including Shakespeare’s life and works. The program is organized into the seven ages of life noted by Shakespeare from infancy to old age. The topics relate the culture of the Elizabethan Age to Shakespeare’s life and work.
One anecdote about Elizabethan times involves a rival playwright to Shakespeare, Robert Greene. Greene was an educated playwright who was jealous of Shakespeare, an uneducated playwright, especially after the success of Shakespeare’s play Henry VI. Greene published a book critical of Shakespeare and some say this is root of the saying green with envy, according to museum curators.
The Folgers Shakespeare Theatre is home to many performances. It was constructed in Elizabethan style and was modeled after an innyard theatre from Shakespeare’s time. The theatre is complete with upper-tier seating, originally only for the upper classes and standing room on the ground for commoners, although the theatre does have some seats on the main floor. To complete the Elizabethan atmosphere, the theatre includes a balcony for famous love scenes and a trapdoor for the entrances of characters from the underworld.
The design of the theater really impacts your enjoyment of the show, senior Lauren Mazer said. You are left with a more intimate and authentic theater going experience.
James Burbidge, an apprentice carpenter, was the first man to design and build a theater in England. Before Burbidge’s theater was built, actors traveled from town to town requesting permission from innkeepers and mayors to put on performances.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest is currently showing at the Folger Theater. Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and As You Like It will also play in the 2000-2001 season.
The theater also hosts The Folger Consort, a musical performance ensemble. The Consort has resided at the theater for 24 years and performs music from the 12th through 18th centuries.
The Folger Theater also showcases readings of works of fiction in its PEN/Faulkner Reading Series. The next reading takes place Nov. 10, featuring Paule Marshall. Marshall holds a distinguished chair in the Creative Writing Program at New York University. Her most recent work is The Fisher King. Marshall’s fiction deals with the themes of colonialism, racism and the primacy of the oral tradition.
The Folger is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are offered at 11 a.m. each day and also at 1 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free and the tour offers some interesting insights into Shakespeare’s life and the treasures housed at the Folger.