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Focus on Shakespeare

Unknown artist. Shakespeare signboard. Oil on panel, late 1600s to early 1700s.

London, Savoy Theatre. Othello. Promptbook, 19 May 1930

Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus. London, 1594

The Folger's Shakespeare holdings cut across the entire collection to include rare books, manuscripts, works of art, and diverse theatrical memorabilia, as well as audiovisual materials and extensive reference resources. Historically, Shakespeare materials of all kinds were the earliest part of what was to become the library's collection, having been collected by Henry and Emily Folger beginning in the late 1800s. Yet the Shakespeare holdings of the Folger also include some of the institution's most recent archival material, including films and recordings.


Books, manuscripts, and a variety of items documenting theatrical productions come up to the present, as does the long progression of Shakespeare editions and other materials tracing the impact of Shakespeare in film, television, and other contexts. The Folger holds more than a quarter of a million playbills, dozens of period theatrical costumes, and several hundred promptbooks. Materials related to theatrical families specializing in Shakespeare, among them the Keans, the Kembles, and the Booths, are also well represented in the collection.


The Folger promptbook collection is part of the manuscripts collection and is curated by Heather Wolfe. Shakespeare illustrations, extra-illustrated books, scrapbooks, playbills, souvenirs, movie press kits, publicity photographs, and many other ephemera are part of the art collection and are curated by Erin Blake. Erin Blake, the Curator of Art and Special Collections, also has responsibility for the Folger's audiovisual collection, including recordings, films, and videos. General question about Shakespeare and about the Folger's Shakespeare holdings can be referred to Georgianna Ziegler, Louis B. Thalheimer Head of Reference at the Folger, at reference@folger.edu .


Accessing such diverse materials across different media has long been a challenge for scholars and staff at the Folger and other research libraries. As a new model for such access, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently underwrote Raising the Curtain: David Garrick at the Folger, an ambitious effort to find new ways to make the Folger's collection of materials on the actor-manager David Garrick more accessible. The Folger's Garrick collection, perhaps the largest in the world, includes books, manuscripts, promptbooks, playbills, correspondence, portraits, porcelains, and more. As part of the project, Folger staff members are cataloging and conserving Garrick works in these diverse media, creating digital facsimiles, and producing detailed finding aids. The initial phase of Raising the Curtain was funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

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History of the Folger: Building the Collection

Shakespeare Collection Highights

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