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Staycation: Folger Shakespeare Library

August 26, 2011

Love books? Love history? Love theatre? Then today’s Washington, DC staycation idea is for you!

Welcome to the Folger Shakespeare Library, the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials and owner of more First Folios than anywhere in the world — nearly 1/3 of all known surviving. The library also has a research library filled with information on anythingrelated to Shakespeare’s time period, with books on everything from botany and medicine to clothes and art.

The current special exhibition Fame, Fortune, & Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio puts 11 First Folios on display to trace the history of collecting and stories behind the people who bought, stole or found copies of this rare book.

When you consider how rare it is to see even one of these nearly-400-year-old books — much less 11 at once — it’s a pretty impressive exhibit.

There’s so much information that the library can be overwhelming, which is why twice-daily free tours are given. I took one of the morning hour-long tours and was impressed at the sheer amount of information the docent knew, on everything from why the library was built in Washington instead of its founders’ New York home, to the recent true-life mystery of a forged First Folio.

One day a year — Shakespeare’s birthday! — the stunning reading room is opened to the public. If you’re not there that day, you can still peer behind the curtain at the gorgeous, ornate room.

Even if museums don’t appeal to you, a little live theatre might. The Folger puts on a range of dramas, comedies and musical performances each year. If you’ve been to the Globe in London, this will look familiar but on a smaller scale and sans groundlings.

Fun fact: when I saw Merchant of Venice at the Globe, I stood among the groundlings — cheapest tickets! — and even though it was chilly and rainy, it was an unforgettable experience. A must-do for Shakespeare in London, I say.

Like most main DC sights, the Folger Library is free and can be seen in an hour or two. From there, you’re just a short walk to the Library of Congress so why not make a library day out of it?

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play? I always thought The Taming of the Shrew was so much fun to read and see performed.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2011 9:51 am

    You convinced me…I must go here! I actually have the same birthday as Shakespeare, so I may have to take a special trip next year to hang out in that reading room. 🙂 I saw The Tempest at the Globe in London, but my favorite play is The Merchant of Venice.

    • August 26, 2011 10:01 am

      You definitely should — it a kid-centered day at the library but a lot of fun for adults, too. Plus free cake! 😉

      Here’s the info for next year: (I don’t think they always do it on his exact birthday so the event can be on a weekend, but close enough)

  2. August 26, 2011 1:51 pm

    Um, I have NEVER been there and I’m in the city! Shame on me!

  3. August 26, 2011 3:18 pm

    I have only been to Folger’s once in high school, it maybe time to go on another visit. My favorite Shakespeare play is King Lear.

  4. Life's a Bowl permalink
    August 27, 2011 5:49 am

    I’ve lived here my whole life but never have heard about this place before- so bad! Sounds interesting, especially seeing a drama!

  5. August 27, 2011 10:28 am

    I first went there this year and I agree, it’s a wonderful place to visit! Definitely one of DC’s best-kept secrets off the tourist trail. Great post!

  6. August 27, 2011 9:41 pm

    My personal favorite is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I love teaching Romeo and Juliet. My freshmen always feel so accomplished after they finish it, and there is little better than acting out death scenes with foam swords.

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