The Wonder of Will: Folger Shakespeare Library Celebrates 400 Years of Shakespeare in 2016

Press Contacts:

Garland Scott,, 202.675.0342
Peter Eramo,, 202.675.0344
Esther French,, 202.675.0326

Throughout 2016, the Folger Shakespeare Library is celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare with The Wonder of Will, including exhibitions, performances, special events, and more—at the Folger, online, and across the United States. More information at

“We still pay attention to Shakespeare because, no matter how networked our world becomes, he remains one of the ultimate connectors,” says Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “In a sense, Shakespeare wrote the preamble to modern life. His stories reflect the tensions of the period in which he lived—a period that saw the rise of global trade, modern science, free speech, religious tolerance, even the media revolution that was the printed book. Shakespeare found the human heart in all of this change. Long before anyone knew what to call it, this clever man from Warwickshire was writing about the modern world. That world is still our world, and we’re inviting everyone to encounter it anew this year as we celebrate The Wonder of Will around the country and here in Washington, DC.”

History-Making Exhibitions

The year-long commemoration kicked off on January 4 with the opening of the national tour of a Shakespeare First Folio to all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare is currently on view at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the Sam Noble Museum in Oklahoma, and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Oregon. A full list of tour stops and dates is at

Seven years after Shakespeare’s death in 1616, two of his friends and fellow actors published the first collected edition of his works, known as the First Folio. The Folger, which owns 82 of the world’s 233 copies, is sending this rare book on a year-long tour of the United States, in association with the American Library Association and Cincinnati Museum Center.

The First Folio tour is an once-in-a-lifetime chance for many Americans to see an original 1623 First Folio—one of the world’s most influential and valuable books, and the original printed source for 18 of Shakespeare’s 38 plays. Without it, plays like Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, and As You Like It might have been lost forever.

In Washington, DC, at the Folger, three exhibitions will explore different aspects of Shakespeare’s life and legacy.

  • Shakespeare, Life of an Icon brings together some of the most important manuscripts and printed books related to Shakespeare's life and career, giving us a firsthand look at the most famous author in the world. (January 20 – March 27)
  • America’s Shakespeare reveals how Americans have made Shakespeare our own. Using a fascinating selection of rare letters, costumes, books, and more, it shows how his words and ideas weave through our national story from print to radio, television, film, and digital media. (At the Folger from April 7 – July 24; on tour at the Los Angeles Public Library beginning November 10, 2016 through February 2017)
  • Merchandising, parodies, and spinoffs through the centuries have put William Shakespeare and Jane Austen on a first-name basis with the world.  Explore the stories of these two great authors in Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity. (August 6 – November 6)

A Season of Wonder

Folger Theatre opens the year with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, beginning January 26. In April, the Reduced Shakespeare Company performs the East Coast premiere of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), followed by the world premiere May 31 of District Merchants, a new variation on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, written by four-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Aaron Posner.  

A special touring production, Gravedigger’s Tale, will accompany the First Folio! exhibition to selected sites. The Gravedigger, a minor character in Hamlet, appears in this short performance with a trunk and a book to answer audience “questions” using the text from Hamlet.

The Folger’s early music ensemble-in-residence, Folger Consort, is performing three concerts of early and new music celebrating Shakespeare: The Wonder of Will, at the Washington National Cathedral January 22 – 23, followed by Playing with Fire: Virtuoso Instrumental Music of the Renaissance (March 18 –  20) and Shakespeare and Purcell: Music of The Fairy Queen and Other Works (April 8 – 10).

Noted scholars Tiffany Stern (March 17), Stephen Greenblatt (April 25), Kim Hall (June 27), and Joseph Roach (October 4) will deliver talks on performance, literary celebrity, and other topics for this Shakespeare Anniversary Lecture Series, sponsored by the Folger Institute’s Center for Shakespeare Studies. Folger Fridays, a free series of short talks on Fridays at 6pm, is presenting more than 40 conversations in honor of the anniversary year.

The World’s Shakespeare Stories

Online, the Folger is creating new resources and experiences for users around the world.

Our digital Share Your Shakespeare Story project is inviting people of all ages and backgrounds to record their personal experiences and connections with Shakespeare and his work, and then to share these videos on social media using the hashtag #MySHX400. Responding to such questions as “What does Shakespeare mean to you?” or “When did you first read or see Shakespeare?”, these videos together represent a digital collage of stories celebrating Shakespeare’s legacy.

Anyone curious about the life of the man from Stratford-upon-Avon will be able to turn to a new website, Shakespeare Documented,, launching January 20. Featuring documents from more than 30 institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom, including the British Library, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, The National Archives (UK), and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, it is the largest and most authoritative resource for learning about primary sources that document the life and career of William Shakespeare. The website includes images, descriptions, and transcriptions of more than 500 manuscripts and printed works that contain references and allusions to Shakespeare and his works, during his lifetime and shortly after his death.

Resources for Teachers, Students, and Theatergoers

Folger Education is on the road, in partnership with First Folio tour stops and also with the English Speaking Union, with professional learning days for middle and high school teachers. Online, live-streamed Master Classes on teaching Hamlet and Othello bring content expertise and classroom strategies to teachers everywhere. In July, 25 teachers, selected from applicants across the country, will be at the Folger for the four-week Teaching Shakespeare 2016, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Working with scholars, theater professionals, and mentor teachers, participants will take a deep dive into America’s Shakespeare through the study of Othello, The Tempest, and The Merchant of Venice.

As part of our commitment to building greater connections to Shakespeare and the humanities, the Folger is also piloting a Theater Partnership Program in collaboration with theaters from around the United States to create and share Shakespeare-related content and experiences that enhance audiences’ engagement with his plays.


Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the ultimate resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world. The Folger welcomes millions of visitors online and in person. We provide unparalleled access to a huge array of resources, from original sources to modern interpretations. With the Folger, you can experience the power of performance, the wonder of exhibitions, and the excitement of groundbreaking research. We offer the opportunity to see and even work with early modern sources, driving discovery and transforming education for students of all ages. Join us in Washington, D.C., on the road, or online at

Programs of The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare are made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: the Human Endeavor, and by the generous support of the British Council, Vinton and Sigrid Cerf, Neal and Florence Cohen, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation,, National Endowment for the Arts, Stuart and Mimi Rose, Share Fund, and Winton and Carolyn Blount Exhibition Fund of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Additional support comes from the Wonder of Will Century Club, Honorary Committee, and 2016 Folger Gala sponsors.

Press Contacts:

Garland Scott,, 202.675.0342
Peter Eramo,, 202.675.0344
Esther French,, 202.675.0326