Will & Jane

Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity

Aug 06 – Nov 06, 2016

Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity takes a close look at these two celebrated authors’ literary afterlives—and finds some surprising parallels. For both, adaptations and parodies in different eras helped popularize their work and make it more approachable (think Shakespeare Undead and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Milestone events also increased their fame: for Shakespeare, the much-heralded 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, and for Austen, a burst of 1990s films and a watershed BBC production. From portraits to porcelain collectibles, branded merchandise, and gravestone rubbings, these two authors have traced intriguingly similar arcs in their posthumous fame. Explore their stories and the nature of celebrity in the 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare's death and the 199th anniversary of Austen’s in 2016.


"Lit's Dynamic Duo, Will and Jane, Shared Path to Pop Stardom" (New York Times)

"'Will & Jane' is the Folger's look at how the two authors reflect ourselves" (Washington Post)


Part of The Wonder of Will, a Folger celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare



Professor of English (University of Texas)
Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies (Carnegie Mellon University)

This exhibition is generously supported by:

May Liang
Roger and Robin Millay


View Image Assets

Parian bust of Shakespeare (19th Century, ART 248540) and Marble bust of Austen on wooden base (Late 20th century, Loan courtesy of Joan Doyle, Member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Eastern Pennsylvania Region)

Item Title: 
Bust of William Shakespeare and Bust of Jane Austen
Item Call Number: 
ART 248540 and LOAN
Item Date: 
19th Century and 20th Century

Author portraits and biographies play important roles in Will’s and Jane’s reception as literary celebrities, yet their earliest portraits provide a base for imaginative depictions rather than definitive images.


View Image Assets
Item Title: 
Bobble-head Shakespeare

Like many cultural icons, Shakespeare's likeness can be found in a variety of playful formats, including that of a bobble-head figure.


View Image Assets
Item Title: 
Garrick as Richard III, Kemble as Richard III, Kean as Richard III
Item Call Number: 
ART 241076, ART 241078, ART 241079

Certain moments in the history of Shakespeare performance quickly became iconic. The popularity of actor David Garrick as Richard III crystalized in the above pose was then repeated in print and porcelain, and even transferred to different actors, such as John Philip Kemble and Edmund Kean. 


The shirt worn by actor Colin Firth during his portrayal of Mr. Darcy as he emerged from the Pemberley pond in the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice production.

Costume, regency-style man’s chemise
Dinah Collin, Costume Designer London, 1995
Property of Cosprop Ltd., London

This same pattern of repetition in porcelain occurs in the reception of Austen, although in a different visual media, namely film and television. At Jane’s 200th anniversary, it is the BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice, particularly the moment when a wet-shirted Colin-Firth-as- Fitzwilliam-Darcy meets our desiring gaze, that has been singled out to celebrate and duplicate. This film moment has been spoofed, imitated, and reworked in different media and visual formats—even restaged with different actors stepping into Firth’s place.


View Image Assets
Playbill for Merchant of Venice  Drury Lane Theatre, March 5, 1814
Item Title: 
Playbill for Merchant of Venice Drury Lane Theatre
Item Call Number: 
Bill Box G2D84 1813-1814. No. 141. Copy 2
Item Date: 
March 5, 1814

Jane Austen experienced Shakespeare’s early rise to celebrity status first-hand. She read and admired his work, referenced him in her fictions, and saw his plays performed on London’s stage. This playbill on display announces the performance of The Merchant of Venice that Jane saw on 5 March 1814.


View Image Assets
Item Title: 
[Two goblets, turned and silver mounted] [realia]
Item Call Number: 
Wood no. 12a
Item Creator: 
Sharp, Thomas (1725-1799)
Item Date: 

Relics were often created for sincere admirers of authors such as Shakespeare and Austen. This 18th-century goblet is part of a matching set made from the wood of a mulberry tree planted by Shakespeare. The inscription on the silver rim reads "Made from a piece of Shakespeare’s mulberry tree by Mr. Sharpe [sic] silversmith [sic] Stratford on Avon." 


View Image Assets
Item Title: 
[Twelve Shakespearean landmarks] [graphic] / E. Cilks, lith., 170 Fleet St.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S898 no.21 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Cilks, E., 19th cent., printmaker.
Item Date: 
[mid to late 19th century?]

It is not a new phenomenon for literary fans to travel to locations related to their favorite author. This 19th century print depicts popular Shakespeare-related sites, including the Tomb of Shakespeare, Charlecote Hall, The old font, Shakespeare's school, Shakespeare's house, New Place, Fulbrooke Deer Barn, Church of the Holy Trinity, Globe Theatre, Shakespeare's cliff, Anne Hathaway's cottage, and Herne's Oak.


A collection of household items inspired by Shakespeare and Austen

Mug with portrait of Shakespeare and image of Mulberry Tree
Cider mug, for likely use at Stratford Jubilee
England, 1769
ART Inv. 1074

David Garrick as Don John
Liverpool creamware with transfer-printed design
England, ca. 1790
ART 241061

Kathleen Bader Stevans, artist
Vintage ceramic platter hand-painted with Chawton cottage
Pittsburgh: Pure Hokum, 2014
Loan courtesy of private collector

Thomas Sharp (1725-1799), artist
Rolling pin made from “Shakespeare’s” mulberry tree
Pasted image of Chandos portrait
England, 1756
Wood no. 1

Jane Austen silhouette cookie cutters
United States, 21st century
Loan courtesy of private collector

Darcy and Elizabeth salt and pepper shakers
Glazed ceramic
Bas Blue, 2013
Loan courtesy of private collector

Bellows with Shakespeare bas relief portrait
Wood, leather, and brass
England, 18th or 19th century
ART Inv. 1131

Pride and Prejudice dish towel
Lincolnshire: Countryside Art, 21st century
Loan courtesy of private collector

Toasting fork with portrait of Shakespeare on handle
England or United States, 19th or 20th Century
ART Inv. 1140

Will and Jane’s images and characters have been copied and repeated on domestic objects, bringing the two authors into daily household functions.The use of Will to roll out pastry, hold cider, or blow the fire in the 18th century or of Jane to cut cookie dough, sprinkle salt at the table, or dry dishes in the 21st are acts similarly motivated by a long-standing desire to participate in celebrity culture.


For many, the love of Jane Austen does not stop at the printed word. These salt and pepper shakers are made to look like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, two of the most beloved characters from Pride & Prejudice.

Combining fashion and fandom, this scarf features Jane Austen's family tree.


View Image Assets
Porcelain figurine of William Shakespeare and Porcelain Figurine of Jane Austen

Porcelain figurine of William Shakespeare (Staffordshire, 18th century, McCall 198) and Porcelain figurine of Jane Austen (M. Young, artist, “Limited Edition of 750; No. 64”, England: Frederick Warne & Co. for Rockingham China, 1994, Loan courtesy of Joan Doyle, Member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Eastern Pennsylvania Region)

Item Title: 
Porcelain figurine of William Shakespeare
Item Call Number: 
McCall 198 and LOAN

Over the course of the 18th century, cheaper porcelain manufactured in Europe put collectibles newly in the hands of middle-class consumers. Figures of Shakespeare, his characters, and popular actors in Shakespearean roles were a part of this new and rapidly expanding market in souvenirs.  By the 20th century, collectible porcelain was a thriving niche ready and waiting for figurines of Jane and her characters.

Jane Grave rubbing.jpg

View Image Assets
Item Creator: 
Janine Barchas

This grave rubbing of the inscription on Jane Austen's tomb was taken by co-curator Janine Barchas with special permission. The rubbing here reads:

"In Memory of


youngest daughter of the late


formerly Rector of Stevenson in this county

she departed this Life on the 18th of July 1817

aged 41, after a long illness supported with

the patience and the hopes of a Christian."

Meet the Curators

Professor of English (University of Texas)

Janine Barchas is Professor of English at the University of Texas, where she teaches Austen in Austin. Her publications include Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel (2003), which won the SHARP DeLong prize, and Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity (2012). She is also the creator of What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org), an online gallery that reconstructs two Georgian art exhibitions attended by Jane Austen—including the first-ever Shakespeare museum.

Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies (Carnegie Mellon University)

Kristina Straub is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon University where she teaches 18th-century British literature, gender studies, and performance theory. Her publications include Divided Fictions (1986, on the novelist Frances Burney), Sexual Suspects (1991, on 18th-century actors) and Domestic Affairs (2008, about servants and masters in 18th-century literature). She is currently editing a new anthology and performance sourcebook of Restoration and 18th-century drama, and writing about 18th-century theatrical performances based on Shakespeare’s plays.

Read, Watch, Listen


Read a series of blog posts by the Will & Jane curators on Shakespeare & Beyond:


Catch a performance of Sense & Sensibility, a new adaptation of Austen's classic novel, onstage at Folger Theatre through Nov 13. Attend a director's talk or post-show cast discussion, and take advantage of a free lesson in English country dancing.


Listen to a Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode in which Janine Barchas, co-curator of Will & Jane, talks about the 18th-century Shakespeare craze and the recent online reconstruction of the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery.

Take a Quiz

Test your knowledge of Jane Austen and William Shakespeare with this quiz.