Is anything what it seems? That is the question posed by "Very Like a Whale," a new collaboration between Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and artist Rosamond Purcell. By juxtaposing books and manuscripts from the Folger collection, natural history objects, Purcell’s photographs, and passages from Shakespeare and other early-modern thinkers, this exhibition explores the interplay between the real world and the world of the Renaissance imagination.

An example of this interplay is seen in a well-known exchange in Hamlet, in which the prince and Polonius discuss how to read clouds: the old man was all too ready to see camels turning into weasels and whales in the sky above Denmark.

HAMLET          Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
POLONIUS     By the’ Mass, and ‘tis like a camel indeed.
HAMLET          Methinks it is like a weasel.
POLONIUS     It is backed like a weasel.
HAMLET          Or like a whale.
POLONIUS     Very like a whale.

Taking its cue from this exchange, “Very Like a Whale” explores the form-engendering power of the Renaissance mind, its ability to transform one thing into another—seeing things for what else they are.

Please note that the exhibition hall will close early at 4pm on Oct 17, 18, 22, and 26 as well as Nov 15 and Dec 1. Thank you for your understanding.