The Wonder of Will: Performances and Talks

Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare

There must be countless ways to celebrate Shakespeare, but live events are certainly among the most immediate options. Folger Theatre and Folger Consort provided numerous performances to delight and engage audiences, as did lectures, readings, and other public events. 

Among the highlights: Folger Theatre, which celebrated its 25th anniversary at the 2017 Folger Gala, staged Shakespeare comedies, three new works inspired by Shakespeare (two of which it commissioned), a touring interactive solo show, and a new Jane Austen adaptation, accompanying an exhibition about Austen and Shakespeare. Folger Consort, the Folger's early music ensemble-in-residence, added trips to New York and Napa Valley to collaborate with Stile Antico and Sir Derek Jacobi to its regular programs. The vocal group Roomful of Teeth provided a musical celebration of Shakespeare that included The Isle, a Folger-commissioned piece by Caroline Shaw inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Screenings of RSC Live and Branagh Theatre Live brought the best of British stage work to Washington audiences.

Talks and public discussions included lectures by Shakespeare scholars Tiffany Stern, Stephen Greenblatt, Kim Hall, Joseph Roach, and Folger Director Michael Witmore. Witmore also spoke at multiple host sites for the First Folio tour and held a staged conversation in New York with US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and actress Cush Jumbo. The O.B. Hardison Poetry Series convened a discussion among poets Malachi Black, Laurie Ann Guerrero, and A. Van Jordan on the sonnet today. A reading and conversation with novelist Howard Jacobson, whose novel Shylock Is My Name retold The Merchant of Venice, introduced the Hogarth Shakespeare project. Free talks and performances before every Friday night show in the theater created an "infinite variety" of more than 40 Shakespeare experiences for Washington, DC audiences. 

Folger Theatre

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This classic Shakespeare comedy, directed by Aaron Posner, featured Folger Theatre favorites Holly Twyford as Bottom and Erin Weaver as Puck. Jan 26-Mar 13, 2016

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William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)

Folger Theatre premiered a hilarious new play by Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin, about an ancient manuscript found underneath a Leicester parking lot. Apr 21-May 8, 2016

Watch the trailer   |  Listen to the podcast interview

District Merchants

A new variation on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, written by four-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Aaron Posner, brought the tale of money, merchandise, and mercy to a post-Civil War Washington, DC. This Folger Theatre-commissioned play also sparked conversations about race, religion, and identity as part of CrossTalk DC, a community engagement initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. May 31-Jul 3, 2016

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Sense and Sensibility

To launch the 2016/2017 season, Folger Theatre brought its first Jane Austen play to the stage, adapted by Kate Hamill, accompanying an exhibition about Austen and Shakespeare. After rave reviews, Sense and Sensibility was extended twice and set Folger box office records. The Folger played host to Austen devotees in town for the annual meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), and a special ladies’ night event featured English country dancing.  Sep 13-Nov 13, 2016

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As You Like It

Folger Theatre finished out The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare in the same way it began: with another classic Shakespeare comedy, in association with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, a Folger theater partner. Jan 24-Mar 5, 2017

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Gravedigger’s Tale

Throughout the First Folio tour in 2016, thousands of people across the United States also saw a special Folger Theatre production that accompanied the traveling exhibition to select sites. In this short performance piece directed by Robert Richmond and starring Louis Butelli, the Gravedigger, a minor character in Hamlet, appears with a trunk and a book to answer audience “questions” using the text from Hamlet. Throughout 2016

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Folger Consort

The Wonder of Will

After a January 2016 snowstorm forced the cancellation of Folger Consort’s Washington, DC, concert inaugurating the Folger’s celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare, the early music ensemble-in-residence traveled to New York City to perform with the renowned English vocal group Stile Antico at Corpus Christi Church. The Wonder of Will: Early and New Music Celebrating Shakespeare featured songs and dances from Shakespeare, along with music by contemporaries William Byrd and John Dowland. Jan 24, 2016

Playing with Fire

Playing with Fire: Virtuoso Instrumental Music of the Renaissance featured country dances and tunes mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. Mar 18–20, 2016

Shakespeare and Purcell

Shakespeare and Purcell: Music of The Fairy Queen and Other Works presented selections of English composer Henry Purcell’s 1692 The Fairy Queen, music for the restoration version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as other memorable settings of Shakespeare by Purcell. Apr 8–10, 2016

Measure + Dido

Folger Consort staged its world premiere of Measure + Dido in Napa Valley, California, before bringing it to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The production, which starred Derek Jacobi and Richard Clifford, combined dramatic readings of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure with excerpts from Henry Purcell’s Dido and AeneasSep 24-25, Oct 1, 2016

Folger Talks

Free Folger Fridays

Free talks and performances offered pre-show before every Friday night show brought together an incredible diversity of topics—from Renaissance love letters to Shakespeare’s jazz funeral, from Mya Gosling’s Shakespeare-related comics to a reading of the play which is thought to show Shakespeare’s own hand, Sir Thomas More


Screenings of RSC Live and Branagh Theatre Live brought the best of British stage work to Washington audiences.
Free outdoor screenings at the Capital Riverfront brought classic Shakespeare films such as West Side Story.

Shakespeare Anniversary Lecture Series

The Shakespeare Anniversary Lecture Series, sponsored by the Folger Institute from 2014-2017, featured leading scholars offering their insights into Shakespeare and his works. The series began with Brian Cummings’ Shakespeare, Biography, and Anti-Biography to celebrate Shakespeare's 450th birthday. Lynne Magnusson delivered the lecture in 2015 on Shakespeare and the Language of Possibility. In 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the series expanded to four talks: Tiffany Stern, From Script to Stage to Script; Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare's Life Stories; Kim Hall, Othello was my Grandfather: Shakespeare in the African Diaspora; and Joseph Roach, Stars Down to Earth: Materializing Celebrity. The series concluded in 2017 with Michael Witmore, The Wisdom of Will, which was also the final event in the Folger's commemoration of Shakespeare's death. 

This series also marked the 30th anniversary of scholarly programming for the Folger Institute's Center for Shakespeare Studies in 2016.

Listen to the Shakespeare Anniversary Lectures