America's Shakespeare

America's Shakespeare, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger, opened April 7, 2016 and closed July 24, 2016. The exhibition was curated by Georgianna Ziegler, the Louis B. Thalheimer Associate Librarian and Head of Reference at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was part of The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare 2016 commemoration of Shakespeare's death.

Shakespeare's words, ideas, and characters are central to American life and thought—even though he was an Englishman. But why is that, and how has his place in American culture changed over time, along with the country?

Through a fascinating selection of rare costumes, letters, books, and more, America's Shakespeare reveals how Americans have made Shakespeare our own. From the Revolutionary War to the latest digital media, Shakespeare is woven through debates on war, politics, race, and national identity, as well as advertising, education, literature, and entertainment. In ever-changing ways, his works are part of America's continuing conversation.

The exhibition takes on its vast subject through a broad range of materials, many of them from the Folger, which houses the world's largest Shakespeare collection. Some highlights include the first US edition of Shakespeare (1796); a New Orleans playbill for John Wilkes Booth in The Merchant of Venice in 1864, about a year before he killed Abraham Lincoln; a costume design for Paul Robeson's Broadway run as Othello during World War II; and clips from the first US televised Shakespeare production—an Amherst College production at the Folger, aired by NBC in 1949.

Audio, video and interactive displays throughout the exhibition will include historic recordings and film clips of American performances and much more.


This exhibition was curated by Georgianna Ziegler.

As the Folger’s Associate Librarian and Head of Reference, Georgianna Ziegler brings an in-depth knowledge of the library's Shakespeare holdings to this quintessentially Shakespearean exhibition. A past president of the Shakespeare Association of America, Ziegler has curated a number of Folger exhibitions, including Shakespeare’s the Thing, Shakespeare's Sisters, Elizabeth I: Then and Now, and Shakespeare's Unruly Women, and has co-curated Marketing Shakespeare and Golden Lads and Lasses, among others. She is the author of numerous journal and reference articles. Before coming to the Folger in 1992, Ziegler taught Shakespeare and was curator of the University of Pennsylvania’s Furness Library.

Contents of the Exhibition

What makes the words, ideas, and characters of William Shakespeare—an Englishman—so central to American life and thought? Through a fascinating selection of rare letters, costumes, books, and more, America's Shakespeare reveals how Americans have made Shakespeare our own. The story begins with the Revolutionary War, when America's founders left Britain behind, but took Shakespeare with them. A broad range of items traces Shakespeare's ever-changing role in American culture, from westward expansion and the Civil War to stage, screen, and radio, debates over war, politics, and race, and the latest forms of digital media today.

America's Shakespeare Exhibition Material

This article offers a comprehensive and descriptive list of each piece included in the exhibition.


America’s Shakespeare is made possible by the generous support of the Winton and Carolyn Blount Exhibition Fund of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and supporters of The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare including the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Share Fund, and other generous donors.