The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare

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The Folger is currently commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death with a suite of collaborative Exhibitions at the Folger and related programs that will introduce people to the man who grew up in the English provinces and went on to become the most influential writer in the world, finding his way to America as a prized adopted "citizen." The 2016 celebrations will include: First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Life of an Icon, America's Shakespeare, Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity.

First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare

A national U.S. tour of First Folios traveling to 50 States and 3 territories. Published in 1623, the First Folio collection of Shakespeare's plays is the book that introduced Shakespeare to the world and allowed his works to travel far beyond the confines of Renaissance London. Individual copies of this precious book, which is the hallmark of the Folger's collection, will be sent to libraries across the country with an accompanying interpretive exhibition. Theatrical performances and educational initiatives will cluster around the First Folio in local schools and theaters, providing a truly rich experience for anyone who wants the chance to see this historic book and learn more about the Bard.

Hear Anthony West, curator of Fame, Fortune, & Theft, discuss the importance of the First Folio.

Shakespeare, Life of an Icon

Shakespeare, Life of an Icon, our kick-off exhibition in January 2016, will include the greatest number of original documents linked to William Shakespeare that has ever been assembled in the United States. It will demonstrate the ways in which Shakespeare left his mark in the world, from his signature, his coat of arms, and his presence in the public records, to the manuscript and printed accounts of his theatrical and poetic career. We can set aside the monumental legacy and appreciate the fact that his world took notice of him, not simply in plays and on stage, but in the basic record-keeping practices that have survived to our own day. The Folger will borrow treasures from the British Library, the National Archives, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and the College of Arms.

America's Shakespeare

Our second exhibition, following quickly on the first, tells the story of how Shakespeare became the world's greatest content provider in media history, from the codex to the computer. America's Shakespeare opens in DC on April 4th and is on display through July 24th, 2016. Portions of it will travel to the Los Angeles Public Library in October 2016. This exhibition will introduce visitors to the Shakespeare whose works are reproduced and enjoyed more than any other writer living or dead, telling the story of how the printed book, professional theater, radio, television, film, and the Internet have carried Shakespeare's words and works around the globe. The exhibition will focus especially on Shakespeare's afterlife in America, where his works powerfully influenced figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, and Gloria Naylor. It will also draw attention to digital media that help us find our way into Shakespeare, including apps, virtual collections, audio recordings -- all of which will be collected on a website that shares this material in perpetuity. Social and outreach events will be planned in each of the major cities that host these two landmark exhibitions.

Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity

Will & Jane, our third exhibition, offers a comparison of the literary celebrity of two of the most popular writers in the English language, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. In observation of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the exhibition combines popular commodities with literary texts and other original documents to demonstrate the trends in passion for literary works from the Georgian era to our time. Examining the role Shakespeare and Austen play in everyday life, the exhibit draws connections between the Georgian passion for Shakespeare and the enduring contemporary obsessions with Austen and the Bard. A first edition of Austen’s Mansfield Park will be displayed alongside a letter from Austen, an avid Shakespeare fan, on a performance by Edmund Kean. The exhibit will also incorporate the rise of the “bonnet drama” and modern fandom, detailing the merchandizing of Shakespeare and Austen’s works with memorabilia from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Will & Jane also presents the fan favorite habit of radically manipulating and modernizing an author’s most famous texts, from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, contributing to the enduring popularity of these authors.