A Monument to Shakespeare

The Architecture of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Apr 13, 2019 – Jan 05, 2020
Mon–Sat: 10am–5pm | Sun: noon–5pm

A Monument to Shakespeare

The Folger Shakespeare Library is throwing back the curtains on its origin story and exciting future in A Monument to Shakespeare: The Architecture of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

In this exhibition, visitors are invited to play, lounge, be curious, and see more of the Folger Shakespeare Library than ever before.

  • Rummage through Mr. & Mrs. Folger’s desk and read the correspondences that grew the Folger and brought this unique building to the Nation’s capital.
  • Explore large scale reproductions of Cret’s detailed architectural drawings, newly digitized for this exhibition.
  • Build structures with slabs featuring the exterior and interior inscriptions that frame the monumental experience of the building.
  • Take a tour of the English Great Hall, Renaissance Reading Room, and the first Elizabethan theater in North America by drone’s eye view.
  • Visit a Shakespeare First Folio: the first complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays published in 1623, itself a monument to Shakespeare.

The star of the exhibition is the extraordinary Folger Shakespeare Library building and its modernized classical exterior and English Renaissance interior (the contrasting styles are lovingly referred to as “Tudor-deco”). Designed in collaboration with Henry and Emily Folger and architect Paul Philippe Cret, the Folger earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, which was expanded in 2018 to include the original interior of the building. Cret developed a vocabulary of English ornament and decoration that copied no specific model, but rather evoked a range of expressions of the late medieval and Renaissance Long Gallery, spaces historically used for exercise and socializing.

Home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare-related books, manuscripts, art, and artifacts, the Folger Shakespeare Library building was described by Emily Folger as “The First Folio, Illustrated.” As soon as it was built, it became a prototype for a wide range of public buildings and monuments across America that maintained the classical spirit while simplifying, modernizing, and abstracting many of classical architecture’s most distinctive features.

Join the Folger in celebration of the story of an American monument to Shakespeare and its unique architectural features.

Read: Curator's Insights

Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Major support for this exhibition is provided by the Winton and Carolyn Blount Exhibition Fund of the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Daily Tours

Exhibition Brochure (PDF)

Building History

Building Inscriptions

First Folio Architectural Highlights

Shakespeare Bas-Reliefs

Video Tour

Yoga in the Great Hall

Paul Cret. Exhibition Gallery C-15 plaster ceiling and cornice. Work No. 226, Sheet No. 165. June 11, 1930. Folger Archives.
Paul Cret. Map of Surrounding Area. Circa 1929. Folger Archives.
Paul Cret. Color drawing of the Theatre. Circa 1929. Folger Archives. 

window detail.JPG

Paul Cret 

Study for the front of the library 
circa 1929
Folger Archives
Paul Cret. Study for the front of the library. Circa 1929. Folger Archives.

window detail.JPG

Paul Cret

Detail of white metal grilles for nine windows in Great Hall

Work No. 226, Sheet No.111

April 8, 1930

Folger Archives

Paul Cret. Detail of white metal grilles for nine windows in Great Hall. Work No. 226, Sheet No.111. April 8, 1930. Folger Archives

Meet the Curators

Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Dr. Witmore was appointed the seventh director of the Folger on July 1, 2011. Upon his arrival, he worked with the Board of Governors to draft a Strategic Plan for the institution, adopted in June 2013. He was formerly professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and before that he served as associate professor of English and assistant professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. The recipient of numerous fellowships, he has held an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles, a research fellowship and a curatorial residency fellowship at the Folger, and a predoctoral fellowship at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin. He was awarded (but declined) an ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship for the academic year 2011-12. Dr. Witmore earned an A.B. in English at Vassar College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his more recent projects, he launched the Working Group for Digital Inquiry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and organized the Pittsburgh Consortium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. His publications include numerous articles, website resources, and book chapters, and he has published five books: Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare, with Rosamond Purcell (2010), Shakespearean Metaphysics (2009), Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance (2007), Childhood and Children’s Books in Early Modern Europe, 1550-1800 (2006), and Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledge in Early Modern England (2001). In addition, he has given scores of presentations and been invited to serve on numerous academic panels. He currently has several books in progress, including a study of early modern wisdom literature and a book on the nature of digital inquiry in the humanities. 


Heather Wolfe is Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She received an MLIS from UCLA and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. She is currently principal investigator of Early Modern Manuscripts Online (emmo.folger.edu), co-principal investigator of Shakespeare’s World (shakespearesworld.org), curator of Shakespeare Documented (shakespearedocumented.org) and is co-director of the multi-year, $1.5 million research project Before 'Farm to Table': Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, a Mellon initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Her first book, Elizabeth Cary, Lady Falkland: Life and Letters (2000) received the Josephine Roberts Scholarly Edition Award from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women. She has written widely on the intersections between manuscript and print culture in early modern England, and also edited The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608 (2007), The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary (2007), and, with Alan Stewart, Letterwriting in Renaissance England (2004). Her most recent research explores early modern filing systems and the social circulation of writing paper and blank books. 

Video: Fly Through the Folger Shakespeare Library

Explore three distinctive spaces: the Great Hall, the historic reading room, and the Elizabethan Theatre.