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Shakespeare & Beyond

A Touch of Shakespeare in New Folger Spaces

Aluminum figure of Puck on water fountain at Folger Shakespeare Library

As the Folger Shakespeare Library reopens on June 21 after completing a major renovation project, visitors may encounter a touch of Shakespeare and the early modern age in the landscape and new public spaces, including the following highlights.

A beloved returning figure is Shakespeare’s character Puck. The Folger’s original outdoor Puck (1932) was a stone statue created by the artist Brenda Putnam, who was also the daughter of the Librarian of Congress. Many decades later, damage and the effects of outdoor exposure led to the production of an aluminum replica, funded by Save Outdoor Sculpture! and other donations, which was installed in its place in 2002. Putnam’s original work, freshly restored, was displayed in the theater lobby until the renovation project began, when both figures were safely stored away.

Today, the aluminum Puck is poised above a new two-level fountain at the base of the Folger’s west garden, beside the visitor entrance on the west side. As in the past, Puck still looks west toward the US Capitol, accompanied by an inscribed line from Shakespeare: “Lord, what fooles these mortals be!” (During the renovation period, the lettering of Puck’s inscription also led to the creation of a new font, Puck, which is now part of the Folger’s visual identity.)

Stephen Kieran, project architect for the Folger renovation, has brought this pair of figures—one stone, one aluminum—closer together, so that visitors are more likely to find both. After they see Puck at the fountain outside the west entrance, visitors may discover Putnam’s original stone statue of Puck next to a flight of stairs beside the nearby Folger gift shop. In tribute to his irrepressible nature, Kieran says, they’ll see that mischievous Puck has turned up again, even though they just saw him outside.

Aluminum figure of Puck on fountain at Folger Shakespeare Library
At the fountain: Aluminum replica of Brenda Putnam's Puck statue. Photo by Lloyd Wolf
Brenda Putnam, Puck, on display near stairs with visitor walking up nearby stairs
Brenda Putnam, Puck, 1932 (stone). On display near the stairs. Photo by Alan Karchmer
Greg Wyatt statue from Folger Shakespeare Library east garden.

Photo by Lloyd Wolf.

On the east

To the east of the Folger building, other Folger statues have also found new places in the landscape. Four sculptures by Greg Wyatt, acquired as part of a set of eight works by Wyatt in 2003 and 2004, are half-size replicas of Wyatt statues on display at the site of Shakespeare’s Stratford home, New Place. Each work depicts elements from one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Visitors will discover a line of three Wyatt sculptures at the east side of the Folger building, depicting The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, and King Lear. One more Wyatt sculpture, representing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is at the northeast corner of the east lawn, where it greets visitors approaching the Folger’s east entrance.

Closer to the entrance is a “Juliet balcony,” an overlook that refers to another of Shakepeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet. Here, visitors can take Juliet’s place, looking down toward other visitors near the east entrance below.

Shakespeare’s words

The east and west entrances each have a Shakespeare line on a side wall, spelled out in aluminum characters set into recessed slots. On the east side, the line is a famous one from Troilus and Cressida: “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” On the west side, the lines are from Duke Senior in As You Like It:

… tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

Text of the
Photo by Lloyd Wolf

The “sermons in stones” passage, which suggests Shakespeare’s close connection with nature, helped to inspire Hallie Boyce, a partner at the landscape architecture firm OLIN, and her team. Their landscape design for the Folger includes large, sloping gardens filled with a wonderful variety of plants. The vast majority of the plants are not associated with Shakespeare’s works, nor are they meant to be. As a nod to the Bard, however, the team incorporated five plants into the landscape that are linked to his works: boxwood, crocus, daffodils (known in the plays as “narcissus”), lavender, and rosemary. In a famous line, rosemary is described by Ophelia in Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. / Pray you, love, remember.”

Images of boxwood, crocus, daffodils, lavender, rosemary

Trevelyon points the way

Once visitors step through the Folger entrances—on either the east or the west—they will have innumerable chances to encounter Shakespeare and the early modern age through performances, research, the wide range of rare materials from the Folger collection in the exhibition halls, and more.

They may also discover another touch of Shakespeare and his world in the new interior spaces. Visitors going to workshops or other programs in the Folger’s newly constructed Learning Lab will find themselves locating the space through over-size, fantastical images, based on a massive, heavily illustrated manuscript in the Folger collection, the 1608 Trevelyon Miscellany.

Photo by Lloyd Wolf