Five of the Coolest Reasons to Visit the Revamped Folger Shakespeare Library, Plus One You Should Already Know

Folger Shakespeare Library. Image: Kate Michael

DC finally got a glimpse of its anxiously-awaited revamped Folger Shakespeare Library, which reopened with the world’s largest Shakespeare collection on display — seriously, more of the collection is now on view than ever before!

After its four-year, $80.5 million construction project, all 82 copies of the Folger’s First Folios are finally being displayed, together, in an all-new modern pavilion and exhibition space.

Recreated historic printing press in Folger Shakespeare Library’s new exhibition space. Image: Kate Michael

There is also now 12,000 feet of public space, including two exhibition halls, a new learning lab, an expanded gift shop, outdoor gardens — and a much anticipated café, Quill & Crumb.

When it first opened in 1932, locating the Folger on Capitol Hill was “a really interesting choice… surrounded by institutions where words matter most,” outgoing Folger Director Michael Witmore said.  “I think the reason why was because we need history, and theatre, and poetry, and the humanities to be part of an elevated democracy.”

“This is a writer who we are not done with, and he is not done with us,” Witmore added, explaining why these folios are — and deserve to be — the star of the new space. These blessings from the Bard were published by his supporters in 1623 (the first published collection of 38 of Shakespeare’s plays) and without them, some of Shakespeare’s work may have been lost forever.

Exhibitions in Folger Shakespeare Library. Image: Kate Michael

But in addition to an up-close look at the folios, there are five other extremely cool reasons to visit the new Folger Shakespeare Library.

    • Three commissioned artworks by contemporary artists offer a new way to “see” Shakespeare. Fred Wilson’s black mirror, installed opposite a famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, reflects on the play Othello. U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove’s poem welcomes visitors at the West Entrance. And Anke Neumann’s 15-foot long paper and light sculpture illuminates guests up and into the 1930s replica Elizabethan theatre.
    • The Reading Room is one of the most comfortable places to hang — maybe for all eternity. There is new Luke Hughes ergonomic furniture there, as well as the immured ashes of New York oil magnate Henry Folger and his wife Emily, who planned the library in the late 19th century.
    • Also in the Reading Room is a hidden window treasure, not visible from outside the building. The Seven Ages of Man window is a large stained glass depicting Jaques’s speech in As You Like It, and modeled after the apse window of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church.
    • Lush new gardens surrounding the building aren’t just a beautiful respite; they include native plants and plants referenced in Shakespeare’s plays.
    • And, not only will the upcoming new café, Quill & Crumb offer coffee, lunch, grab-and-go options, and a full-service bar and delicious bites in the evening, but this space, which used to be where the folios were stored, has been opened up to receive light like never before, and will undoubtedly be one the Capitol Hill neighborhood’s most popular gathering spots.

“The Folger Shakespeare Library is one of THE great research libraries in the world,” said Witmore at the unveiling of the renovation, “but it is also a beloved part of Washington, DC.”

Timed-entry passes are currently available and free, though there is a suggested donation of $15.