In 1916, Henry Clay Folger had not yet opened his library. However, he still made a unique contribution to the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death: he lent a copy of the First Folio to Reverend S. Parkes Cadman, pastor at the Central Congregational Church in Brooklyn, which Henry and Emily Folger attended. Cadman then used the volume as a prop in delivering a special sermon, entitled “The Religious and Moral Values of Shakespeare,” on Sunday 30th April (23rd April in 1916 coincided with Easter Sunday, hence the week’s delay). The Reverend addressed his flock with the striking words: “Before me this morning, upon this holy desk, next to the Holy Bible, as it ever ought to be, is one of the first folios, entitled: ‘Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, published according to the true original copies in London, 1623.’” It is not unusual for people to talk about Shakespeare’s work and the Bible together as the pinnacles of the written word (a phenomenon that led George Bernard Shaw to coin the mocking term “Bardolatry”). Thanks to Henry Folger, the two books physically shared a sacred space, side by side on the pulpit of a Brooklyn church.
Reverend Cadman was not alone in celebrating the Shakespeare Tercentenary in 1916. Around the globe, the Bard was honoured in churches, schools, universities, theatres, libraries, galleries, clubs, parks, and sports stadiums. The range of tributes included theatrical productions, sermons, debates, concerts, exhibitions, souvenir publications, pageants, planting of trees and Shakespeare gardens, and even such odd-sounding offerings as “Shakespeare Circus” and “Waffles à la Shakespeare.” While Europe was in the throes of the First World War and the US fought against Pancho Villa in Mexico, people across the world chose to express their cultural identity by rallying around Shakespeare.