The Wonder of Will: Making Discoveries

Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare

An internationally recognized research library, the Folger aids researchers from around the world in making their own discoveries. Important findings are also made by Folger staff as they work on new projects. More recently, new forms of collaboration between scholars across disciplines, theater artists, dancers, and musicians are unearthing new creative understanding about earlier Shakespeare performances and creating "new" work for audiences to enjoy.

Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms

In June 2016, The New York Times reported a major discovery made by Folger curator of manuscripts Heather Wolfe during her preparations for the Shakespeare Documented website and Shakespeare, Life of an Icon exhibition: previously unknown depictions of Shakespeare’s coat of arms, a status symbol in early modern England. These documents cast new light on Shakespeare’s status as a gentleman-writer, but also affirm existing understandings of his identity as both the famous playwright and the man from Stratford.

Existing biographies and research that paint a picture of Shakespeare are full of conjectures that try to fill in many gaps. For over a century, Shakespeare biographers have based their accounts of the grant of arms on four documents at the College of Arms, two at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and one at the Bodleian Library. Wolfe’s finds have added thirteen documents to this group, opening exciting new opportunities for Shakespeare biographers. The last time any new depiction of Shakespeare’s coat of arms was discovered was in 1908.

Read more about Wolfe's discovery and see the documents she found.

Shakespeare’s World

In collaboration with Zooniverse and the Oxford English Dictionary, the Folger launched Shakespeare's World, a crowd-sourcing website for transcribing manuscripts from Shakespeare’s lifetime. In its first year alone, more than 2,500 registered contributors transcribed 91,000 lines of text on more than 3,000 pages. These transcriptions will be contributed to Early Modern Manuscripts Online, a free, searchable database of transcriptions and images of early modern manuscripts. Transcribers are also looking for new words that have not yet been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as variants and older spellings. Multiple such discoveries have already been made.

Measure + Dido

A new performance in 2016 was the fruit of a 2014 collaboration between Folger Institute, Folger Theatre, and Folger Consort to explore Restoration Shakespeare: the adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays that were popular with audiences from 1660 to about 1710. Measure + Dido, the resulting performance starring Richard Clifford and Derek Jacobi, showcased the discoveries and insights that scholars can make with actors and musicians when they all work together.