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Our building and grounds

The Folger Shakespeare Library, designed by Paul Philippe Cret, was dedicated in 1932 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The front exterior of the Folger building showing windows and bas reliefs

Located a block from the US Capitol, the Folger Shakespeare Library is an Elizabethan monument with a neoclassical exterior.

On the outside, its white Georgia marble harmonizes with nearby buildings, such as the Library of Congress, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court. Inside, the design evokes Tudor England, with oak paneling, ornamental floor tile, and high plaster ceilings.

Fly through the Folger’s Great Hall, Reading Room, and Elizabethan Theatre with this 8-minute tour.

Reading Room

Built like the great hall of an Elizabethan house, the 131-foot Reading Room incorporates 16th- and 17th-century French and Flemish tapestries, carved oak paneling, a high trussed roof, and a large fireplace.

On the hall screen at the east end hang portraits of the Folgers in their academic robes, painted by the British artist Frank O. Salisbury. Above the Salisbury portraits is a bust of Shakespeare based on his memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. The ashes of both Folgers are immured behind a memorial plaque.

Seven Ages of Man window

At the west end is one of the Folger’s treasures, a large stained-glass window depicting the Seven Ages of Man from Jaques’s speech in As You Like It. This window is by the Philadelphia stained-glass studio of Nicola d’Ascenzo (1871–1954) and is modeled after the stone tracery of the window after the apse window of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church.

Although the window is exposed to exterior sunlight, it is in an interior space and is not visible from outside the building.

Elizabethan Theatre

The intimate Elizabethan Theatre is the setting for Folger Theatre productions, early music concerts by the Folger Consort, O.B. Hardison Poetry programs, family activities, and many education programs, including the Folger’s student festivals.

With its three-tiered wooden balconies, carved oak columns, and half-timbered facade, the Theatre 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.

Great Hall

The Folger’s Great Hall evokes the gallery of a 16th-century house with its soaring plaster strapwork ceiling and oak-paneled walls. The terracotta floor incorporates masks of Comedy and Tragedy as well as the titles of Shakespeare’s plays. There is also a white marble memorial bust of Henry Folger produced by John Gregory, the same artist who created the Folger’s exterior bas-reliefs.

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, represents Great Britain at the east end. Each heraldic device is accompanied by a quotation from a theatrical giant—respectively, the American drama critic William Winter and the British thespian David Garrick.

As part of the building renovation, the Great Hall is transforming from an exhibition space to a public gathering place.

Exhibition halls

The building renovation is adding two new, large exhibition halls, anchoring the New Pavilion.

Shakespeare Exhibition Hall

The Shakespeare Exhibition Hall will house a permanent exhibition about Shakespeare’s life and works.

Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Hall

The Stuart and Mimi Rose Rare Book and Manuscript Exhibition Hall will include space for permanent and changing exhibitions that demonstrate the impact of the early modern world on our own.

Gardens and landscaping

Visitors returning to the Folger after construction is completed will find expanded green spaces on the east and west sides of the building, with beautiful landscaping designed by OLIN landscape architects.

The east and west entries will feature gently sloping ramps that lead to the New Pavilion, a building expansion located under the Folger front lawn. The landscaped entries will connect with open gardens on either side of the building, with paths and benches for visitors and researchers looking for a shady retreat or a place to have a conversation outside.

The public garden to the west will replace the half-circle driveway formerly located there, and the grand magnolia tree has been relocated a short distance to the south. The playful aluminum statue of Puck will grace the entry.

The public garden to the east will include a Juliet balcony and the Folger’s Elizabethan Garden.


The Folger building is well known for the Shakespeare bas-reliefs along its north façade, created by the New York sculptor John Gregory (1879–1958).

By convention, this artwork would ordinarily have been positioned much higher, near the top of the building; the Folgers asked for the placement near street level to give the public a better view.

Building inscriptions

The Folger Shakespeare Library is filled with inscriptions of quotations by and about Shakespeare. See the text of inscriptions, to whom they are attributed, and their location outside or inside the Folger Shakespeare Library building.