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The Wonder of Will: A Letter from Folger Director Michael Witmore
Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare
In commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we celebrated his staying power as a poet, playwright, and cultural force.
We sent the First Folio on a tour across 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, created exhibitions that deepened our understanding of Shakespeare’s life and his legacy, worked with teachers to inspire the next generation, commissioned theatrical and musical pieces—we were busy in 2016. And 2016 lasted a long time. More than just an anniversary year, it was 19 months of The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare, as we began rolling out the red carpet in October 2015 and continued celebrating through to April 2017, marking the 401st anniversary of his death.
Because of all that happened, many, many more people feel that the Folger has something meaningful to offer them, whether that is an encounter with a magical book like the First Folio or an experience of human connection in our theater and in classrooms. We proved that the resources we possess inspire conversations that are still a sustaining part of our lives. People wept when they saw the First Folio. They embraced us as partners when we came to their libraries and museums. They marveled at the work that appeared on our stage and online.
We created Shakespeare Documented, “painted” the ceiling of the Great Hall with manuscripts, hosted lectures by distinguished Shakespeareans, and premiered District Merchants, a variation on The Merchant of Venice set in post-Civil War Washington, DC. We sat across the table with members of the DC community in conversations about race and religious difference. We commissioned works of art—among them, Gravedigger’s Tale and Caroline Shaw’s The Isle. Our work was frequently covered by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, NPR, and and countless local TV and radio news programs, newspapers, and websites around the country. It was also broadcast around the globe by C-SPAN2’s Book TV for The Wonder of Will LIVE on April 23, 2016.
More than 750,000 people encountered our exhibition work face to face or enjoyed a performance or event with us, and more than three million people encountered us online.
This was such an important thing to do in 2016, a year that tested our sense of what the humanities and arts can offer—which is an ever more vivid sense of who we are and might someday become. People gave us a second and third look this year, and you were a part of that. I am grateful.
Looking back on all of this, I can say that Shakespeare is more popular than ever and that the Folger Shakespeare Library, which is the largest collection of its kind, is committed to being the ultimate resource for Shakespeare and his early modern world. We’re put here to share this collection and the story of this remarkable period in history, something that we intend to do with greater energy and on a greater scale in the years to come.