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.
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.
The main building is undergoing a major renovation to expand public space, improve accessibility, and enhance the experience for all who come to the Folger. During construction, the building is closed to visitors, but Folger programs and events continue at other locations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this series of blog posts, artist Paul Glenshaw draws the Shakespeare bas-reliefs, examining them one by one.
Drawing Shakespeare: Henry IV, Part 1
Drawing by Paul Glenshaw of the Folger bas-relief depicting a scene from Henry IV, Part 1 This is the tenth post in a series by artist Paul Glenshaw about drawing the bas-reliefs by sculptor John Gregory on the front of…
Drawing Shakespeare: Hamlet
Drawing Shakespeare: Richard III
Drawing Shakespeare: King Lear
Drawing Shakespeare: Julius Caesar
Drawing Shakespeare: Macbeth
Drawing Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice
Drawing Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet
Drawing Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Drawing the Folger's Shakespeare bas-reliefs
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.
On the front of the building
This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare
That his drama is the mirrour of life.
His wit can no more lie hid,
Then it could be lost.
Reade hime, therefore; and againe, and againe.
JOHN HEMINGE : HENRIE CONDELL
Thou art a monument, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy books doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
On the west side of the building
For Wisdomes sake, a word that all men love.
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
On the fountain
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
A MIDSOMMER NIGHTS DREAME
West vestibule, over the door to the Great Hall
I shower a welcome on ye; welcome all.
SHAKESPEARE, Henry VIII, Act 1, Sc. 4
West vestibule, over the entrance to the west corridor
What needs my Shakespeare for his honor’d bones
The labor of an age in piled stones?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument.
Over the door, west end of Great Hall
There is not anything of human trial
That ever love deplored or sorrow knew,
No glad fulfilment and no sad denial,
Beyond the pictured truth that Shakespeare drew.
Over the door, east end of Great Hall
Thrice happy the nation that Shakespeare has charm’d
More happy the bosoms his genius has warm’d!
Ye children of nature, of fashion, and whim,
He painted you all, all join to praise him.
In the Reading Room, at the west end
I do not remember
That any book or
Person or event ever
Produced so great
An effect on me as
Shakespeare is fertility,
Force, exuberance, no
Reticence, no binding,
No economy, the
Inordinate and tranquil
Prodigality of the creator.
In the Reading Room, over the fireplace
England’s genius filled all measure
Of heart and soul, of strength and pleasure,
Gave to the mind its emperor,
And life was larger than before:
Nor sequent centuries could hit
Orbit and sum of Shakespeare’s wit.
The men who lived with him became
Poets, for the air was fame.
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
At the east end of the Reading Room
There is a replica of the Memorial to Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. The inscription on the tablet below the bust, as in the original at Stratford, reads:
Indicio Pylium, genio Socraten, arto Maronem,
Terra tegit, populus maeret, Olympus habet.
Pylius for his judgement, Socrates for his intellects, Maro for his poetry–
The earth covers him, the people mourn him, Olympus holds him.
Stay, Passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read if thou canst, whom envious death hast plast,
Within this monument: Shakespeare: with whome,
Quick Nature dide: whose name, doth deck ys Tombe,
Far more, than cost: sich all yt He hast writt,
Leaves living art, but page, to serve his witt.
Obiit ano Doi 1616
A tatis. 53 Die 23 Aps.