Lately, Its been cold in D.C. For days I have seen snow falling out my window. Today the sun is out, temperature is up to 45 F degrees -comfortable for D.C. winter standard- so everyone is out, bicycling, walking around, enjoying themselves after long days behind doors and under snow. An English Professor has a sugestion. Go visit the Folgers she says. What is the Folgers? I ask. I click at the link she provides and voilá! There it is. The Folgers Library in Washington D.C. is the museum dedicated to Shakespeare. It holds the most folios of all libraries and museums in the world. This institution has dedicated 127 years (since 1889) to build the largest collection of Shakespeare, not only books and manuscripts, but also art. I agree with the suggestion. I'll visit the Folgers.
The Folgers Library is located inside a white marble building, decorated with reliefs placed low in the facade for better appreciation. They portray images of Shakespeare's plays, along with inscriptions and quotes. As I enter through very ornamented aluminum doors, I encounter the long Folgers' Historic Great Hall. It takes a few seconds to adjust my eye sight. The exhibition is dark; I am entering another time in history, reminiscence of obscure days. The Plague comes to mind, religious persecution perhaps. Both side walls are laminated with dark wood. White boards display renaissance handwriting-style-samples from other writers. There is not a single sample of Shakespeare's own handwriting in existence. Cervantes wrote Don Quixote the same way and at about the same time, using a quill pen made typically from goose feathers. There is interest and curiosity about Shakespeare's personal life; many of the documents in display show his finances, his estate, his family life as told by those that taxed him and knew him personally. In the ceiling above, there is a projection patterns and designs, the same drawings that decorate the pages of the folios. Although it is early morning Saturday, there is a group of people roaming about the gallery. There is also a tour guide with 15+ followers. I join in.
We approach the First Folio with respect. It is enclosed in a glass case. Actually is not the First Folio, it is the Second Folio, the first one is on tour around the U.S. But for the effect of this post and being my first folio, lets leave it at that. Below there is a tablet screen in which the public can browse the digitalized version. We take turns and admire it. It seems holy, sacred under low light. The tour moves away and enters the library; they have reservations in advance for that delicacy. Been left out, I stay and contemplate Shakespeare, the Folio. We are alone at las. I am out of breath. Too many emotions at once. Oh! Shaxpere, Shagspere, Shackspeare, Shakespeare... May I call you Will?
The First Folio is a compilation of comedies, histories and tragedies, including Macbeth, The Tempest; 38 works in total. They were sold as quartos, individual editions just a few pages long. Later, in 1623 all work was put together as a big book called The First Folio. Nine years later came the second copy. A little different from the first one and edited. A
third edition was done twenty years later. Folios were 900 pages long, so they were big books. They were sold for one pound (£1) the equivalent to $200 today. Close to 750 folios were printed; 233 survive today and 82 are at the Folgers, including the very first one on tour around the U.S. and today at The Frost Museum at FIU. Every single folio is different from the previous one. Diverse prints, bounds, covers and surprisingly, different versions of plays. Also the portrait on the cover is one of two known and approved by people who knew him. The book has a copyright, but not to protect the auteur's work, but the printer's rights. Without the First Folio Shakespeare's literary work would have been lost. Still two plays are nowhere to be found: Love’s Labor's Won and Cardenio. But 38 of his plays are known today thanks to the effort and admiration of friends. I only think how many writer are not known today because their works were forgotten, lost. I know it is prohibited, but I cannot resist it: I take a quick photo. No one notices it. First Folio is unharmed. No flash was used in the making of this pic. I snap a couple of pictures and hide my phone.
The tour lady approaches. I am in trouble. The tag with her name in red on it is attached to her blouse: Liz Montagne. Please come to the library? She orders. I panic. Then she elaborates: a couple of people cancelled, I want you to join us. I can't believe my good luck. The tour library is an amazing experience of its own which I will relate some other time. Finally the day ends with a magnificent modern interpretation of Midsummer's Night Dream with a fabulous cast directed by Aaron Posner. The Folgers pays tribute to one of the greatest writers of the English language, a writer that I have learned to appreciate only recently. I want to immerse in Shakespeare's world. Visiting The Folgers enriched my life. A suggestion that ended up being an invaluable experience.