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Exhibitions /

Shakespeare Exhibition

Shakespeare: Then and there, here and now

See the books that gave us Shakespeare, experience the man and his plays, and learn about the complexities of his cultural legacy. From the First Folio of 1623 to a newly commissioned work by contemporary artist Fred Wilson, this exhibition spans four centuries of performance, interpretation, critique, and re-invention.

Explore some of the many ways people have engaged with Shakespeare’s language, characters, and stories since the early modern period through a rotating selection of objects from the world’s largest Shakespeare collection – including books, manuscripts, promptbooks, playbills, memorabilia, art, and games.

Plan your visit

The Folger reopens Friday, June 21, 2024 after a multi-year building renovation. Admission is free, and all are welcome! We recommend that you reserve a pay-what-you-will timed-entry pass, with a suggested donation starting at $15.


Photo by Lloyd Wolf

The Folger First Folios

Get up close with the books at the heart of our Shakespeare collection: all 82 of the Folger First Folios.

The First Folio was printed in 1623 seven years after Shakespeare’s death. Without it, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays might have been lost forever.

Learn about the stories behind these remarkable books and how they came to the Folger.

How are these books different? What do they have in common? Explore distinguishing details and connections between copies.

Two portraits of Shakespeare side by side with a question -

Explore the books

Dig into the First Folios from the perspective of a detective, storyteller, or collector.

A child looks at a case containing rows of books with lights illuminating some of them

Make connections

Lights in the case illuminate the books to show connections between copies.

Learn more before your visit:

Shakespeare First Folio

Shakespeare First Folio

About the Folger First Folios

About the Folger First Folios

Printing press

See a printing press similar to the one that printed the First Folios. Press builder Alan May based it on a description in Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (1683), the first English-language printing manual.

Copies of the editions that followed the First Folio – the Second Folio, the Third Folio, and the Fourth Folio – show the early publication history of Shakespeare’s plays.

Learn more about the printing press

Printing with ink

See this fully functional printing press in action! Demonstration schedule to come.

Printing with light

Try your hand at setting type as it happened in a 1623 print shop, but without the messiness of ink.

Shakespeare, his world, and ours

Gail Kern Paster Gallery

Who was Shakespeare? And what is he to you? Explore Shakespeare’s life, the world he inhabited, and the legacy of his words. Collection items on display include Henry VIII’s schoolbook; the Pavier Quartos, the earliest attempt at a collection of Shakespeare’s plays; and artifacts from actor Earle Hyman, who played Hamlet in a groundbreaking production at DC’s Howard University in 1951.

Don’t miss…

The Final Concord
Elizabethan handwritten text on creased vellum. Document is cut into two mirrored halves each with long and short wavy-cut sides. Marks on the cut edges of the long sides of both pages match up to reunite the document.

The Final Concord

This 1602 legal document confirmed Shakespeare’s title to the second-largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon, known as New Place.

Prince Henry’s “boke”

Prince Henry’s “boke”

The boy who would become King Henry VIII wrote “Thys boke is myne Prince Henry” in this copy of Cicero’s writings from 1502.

Shakespeare’s plays: Tellers and tales

Florence and Neal Cohen Gallery

Explore Shakespeare’s 38 plays and the many ways that people since his time have re-imagined them. Playbills, photographs, drawings, costume pieces, scripts, and other collection items reveal a variety of interpretations.

Tellers and Tales
A woman in a wheelchair with two girls pointing at a screen that displays lines from Shakespeare

Shake Up Your Shakespeare

Work with friends to create a Shakespearean conversation, using compliments, insults, and memorable lines from Shakespeare’s plays.

Fred Wilson

God me such uses send, Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend (2024)

Artist Fred Wilson with the black glass mirror he created to reflect the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Photo by Lloyd Wolf.

Experience a new installation by renowned contemporary artist Fred Wilson, whose works reframe cultural symbols and encourage viewers to reconsider social, racial, and historical narratives. In God me such uses send, Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend (a quote from Shakespeare’s Othello), a black glass mirror is displayed in conversation with the Folger’s 1579 “Sieve” portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.

For the Folger I have created an artwork that absorbs its environment as much as it mirrors it. The painting of Queen Elizabeth I and the mirror, to my mind, reflect the relationship between the Royal and the Writer… I view the mirror as Shakespeare himself: larger than life, deeply profound, and giving every person who views his work much more than he, Shakespeare, could have ever gotten. Fred Wilson

An engraving of 19th-century Black actor Ira Aldridge is also displayed in the gallery, along with some lines from Othello, Act III, scene 3, that he wrote out by hand. Despite intense racism in the United States, Aldridge forged a successful theatrical career, receiving international acclaim on European stages.

Ira Aldridge as Othello, 1854. Folger ART File A365.5 no.4

Kids paths

Decoder Trail

Young Shakespeare sleuths (recommended ages 6-9) can pick up a magnifying glass and follow clues through the galleries in both exhibition halls. Decode messages, solve riddles, and create a poem to receive a special badge. Check in at the Welcome Desk in the entrance lobby for your decoder kit.

Discovery Trail

Young explorers (recommended ages 3-5) can roam the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall and find images on the walls from the Folger collection that match the ones in their notes. Check in at the Welcome Desk in the entrance lobby for your clue sheet.