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5 things to see when visiting the Folger

A mosaic of the comedy mask enclosed in a diamond shape made from light colored tiles against darker brown tiles.

Here are some of our favorite things that we hope you’ll check out while visiting our historic home on Capitol Hill, once our building fully reopens Friday, June 21, 2024.

Shakespeare bas-reliefs

King Lear bas relief

Spanning our north facade, nine bas-reliefs by the New York sculptor John Gregory depict scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. The artwork would ordinarily have been positioned much higher, near the top of the building, but the Folgers asked for it to be near street level to give visitors a better view. Mr. Folger also asked the artist to make the figure of King Lear more muscular than shown in the original sketches.

Elizabethan Theatre

The scene of award-winning performances and memory-making student festivals, our theater — with its three-tiered wooden balconies, carved oak columns, and half-timbered facade — evokes the courtyard of an English Renaissance inn. Overhead, a canopy represents the sky. In Shakespeare’s day, such inns sometimes served as playhouses for traveling groups of players, who performed on a raised platform at one end while spectators gathered in the yard and on the balconies above.

Shakespeare First Folio

portrait of Shakespeare on the title page
Yassine El Mansouri Photography

At the heart of the Folger’s Shakespeare collection — the largest in the world — are our 82 copies of the First Folio of 1623. Without it, we might not have plays like The Tempest, As You Like It, Macbeth, and Julius Caesear, which first appear in print in this beloved book. It also includes the Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare, one of two authentic likenesses of Shakespeare. All of our First Folios can be seen together for the first time in the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall.

Great Hall

coat of arms of Elizabeth I
The coat of arms of Elizabeth I represents Great Britain at the east end of the hall. Photo by David Huff.

Evoking the gallery of a sixteenth-century house with its soaring plaster strapwork ceiling and oak-paneled walls, the Great Hall is a place for gathering with friends. The shield and great eagle of the United States grace the west end of the hall, nearest the Capitol; the coat of arms of Elizabeth I, Shakespeare’s queen, represent Great Britain in the east. The terracotta floor incorporates masks of Comedy and Tragedy as well as the titles of Shakespeare’s plays.

Puck fountain

A playful aluminum statue of Puck, the popular mischief maker from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, greets visitors at our western entrance. It’s a copy of the original marble statue produced by award-winning sculptor Brenda Putnam in 1932 which is now indoors for safekeeping from the elements. The fountain includes other sculptural elements, including oak leaves and the statue’s base which features Puck’s famous line, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”