I think I might have talked about this before, but I wish there was a good word to describe someone who loves Shakespeare, at least a better word than the term "Bardolater". First of all, I don't like it when people call Shakespeare "the Bard". It's annoying. Newspaper and magazine article writers are always saying annoying things like, "With Cymbeline, the Bard had apparently run out of ideas so the Bard went to the Bard's other plays and cherry-picked ideas from what the Bard had previously written." Isn't that annoying? And then to make it sound like people idolize the Bard, well, that's just silly. Some people have used "Shakesfan", but I see problems with that one, too.
So, like any fan, if you're a Shakespeare lover (but you don't worship him even though you make pilgrimages to his birthplace and his grave, and you have a goal to see all his plays performed on stage), you tend to collect things related to your topic of interest, like mugs and t-shirts and dolls.
Ideally, and if one were fabulously wealthy, one would collect enough Shakespeare paraphernalia to fill a house, or even a large building. But hardly anyone is that comfortably well off. Among the few who are were Henry Clay Folger and his wife, Emily Jordan Folger. Not only did they make trips to Europe to buy all the Shakespeare stuff they could get their hands on (and I'm not talking about mugs or t-shirts), they employed a book dealer named A S W (Acquire Shakespeare's Works? Amass Shakespearean Writings?) Rosenbach to buy First Folios for them whenever they popped up on the rare book scene. This was obviously back in the day when there was still a lot of Shakespeareana floating around in old, private libraries. Pretty soon the Folgers' collection got so big, they decided to have a separate library built for it. One thing led to another, and they acquired some land on which to build a library to house their collection across the street from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, but Henry Folger died just after construction began in 1928. Then the Great Depression came and his estate could no longer afford the total cost. Emily Folger pitched in a few of her own millions, and her time and effort, and the Folger Shakespeare Library finally opened in 1932.
There are 228 known extant copies (out of about 750 originally printed) of the First Folio, and 82 of them are in the Folger Library. That's like 36% of the extant copies. (And there are 36 plays contained in the First Folio. Make of that what you will.) But 82 copies of the First Folio! Not to mention all the quartos. And all the other pre-1641 English literature. And all the other thousands and thousands of books and manuscripts from other eras. That's quite a collection the Folgers put together. Naturally, if one is a Shakespeare lover, one counts the Folger Shakespeare Library as one of The Places to Go, at least if one happens to be in the vicinity of Washington, DC. So, after our visit to the Library of Congress, and at my instigation (although Gary and Adrien were perfectly willing), we went to the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Of course, we had no library cards, so we couldn't go into the actual library. Instead, we went into the exhibition hall, or Great Hall, as they call it. There was a pretty fascinating exhibit there called "Fame, Fortune, & Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio", about the history of the First Folio and public response to it, including how some copies have been rebound or otherwise abused (and thereby almost destroyed). One previous owner even bleached his copy. Don't ask me why. Part of the display contained information about a Folio that was stolen from Durham University in 1998 and then sent to the Folger Library in 2008 to be appraised, and about how the Folio scholars who examined it figured out that it was the stolen copy. As we examined the displays, Adrien and I thought it would be interesting to write a mystery story about an extremely valuable manuscript that people were being killed for. The biggest mystery was how to make it not sound anything like a Dan Brown novel.
The Grand Hall itself was rather impressive, having been built in the Tudor style with "oak-paneled walls", according to the pamphlet I picked up, "terra cotta floor, and strapwork plaster ceiling." We were duly impressed, even though we had no idea what strapwork was.
After touring the hall, we went into the adjacent theatre to wait for a tour of the hall. (I guess we did things a little bit backwards.)
The tour, I'm sorry to say, wasn't very good. The tour guide didn't have her notes because, as she told us about three times in as many minutes, she had just got back from overseas. What does that have to do with it, I wondered? Did she leave her notes in Europe or something? Or maybe she meant she had just got back from Europe and had come rushing over to the library from the airport. She also mentioned a number of times that the Shakespeare coat of arms was carved into or painted on the ceiling of the Great Hall. She said that William Shakespeare got the coat of arms because his father had tried to, but the right to have it was taken away from him. So this guy in the group asked why or how the right could be taken away, and she said she didn't know (her answer was apparently still in her luggage) but asked if anyone else did. So I (uncharacteristically) piped up to explain the situation with the Shakespeare coat of arms as best I could to a group of people who didn't want any details unless they came with music and juggling clowns. Which means they lost interest after about 10 seconds, partly because someone suddenly opined that the Shakespeares were secret Catholics, which seemed to open the door to several conspiracy theories, none of which cast light on the question of the Shakespeares' coat of arms. Having been a substitute teacher, I could tell by the look in people's eyes (sort of like how a fish looks at you while lying on its side on a bed of ice in the meat department at the grocery store) that I ought to wrap up the coat of arms explanation in an expedient manner, and I managed to do so quite handily, having spoken for all of about 30 seconds.* Such was the inquiry into the facts of Shakespeare's life in the Great Hall of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Anyway, we continued our tour and saw the displays for the second time around. We also got a peek (through a curtained glass window) at the famous Reading room, where Scholars go to do Research amongst the Books and Manuscripts so they can write about their Theories of Shakespeare's Life and Works. When we moved on, Gary lagged behind and started taking video of the Reading Room. A guard materialized out of air, out of thin air, and told him photography was not allowed. Gary pointed out that there was no signage to that effect. The guard apologized for the lack of public instruction and reiterated, kindly but firmly, that "no photography was allowed". Gary put his camera away and caught up with us.
The last item of interest was Emily Folger's own office, located down a hallway off the Great Hall. Everything is kept pretty much as she left it (she passed away in 1936). I think it's interesting to note that (as far as I have been able to determine) Emily Folger became interested in Shakespeare through her husband, but furthered that interest herself and received an MA from Vassar in 1896 for her thesis on "The True Text of Shakespeare". She also received an honorary doctorate from Amherst after the Library opened.
We soon left the library behind us, and I was content to have seen so many First Folios in one place. We walked for a while I knew not where, and I was lost in thoughts of what a cool job it would be to be paid by someone to buy rare books for them, when I suddenly saw a sight that jolted me out of my reverie. It was the Shakespeare Theatre Company!
As a Shakespeare lover, I had subscribed to the Shakespeare Newsletter (back when it was interesting, before one of the editors passed away and the other one quit) and had read reviews of many interesting productions put on by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I wished that I could have seen a play there, but alas, it was not to be. Still, it was a nice way to conclude our excursion to one of the most important Shakespeare-related sites in the US.
[*Basically, it wasn't an issue of the right being given and then taken away; it was more a question of whether the Shakespeares had the right to begin with. Shakespeare's father was trying to improve the family socially and enquired into the coat of arms when things were going well, but then he fell on hard times and nothing came of it. Oh! They fell on hard times because everyone found out he was a secret Catholic! And so on. Back on track: William Shakespeare later finished the process and the coat of arms was granted, but then someone challenged it because he didn't think they deserveditbutthechallengedidn't holdupsotheygottokeepit!
At the end there, I felt sort of like Bugs Bunny talking to the greyhound hare.]
Next stop: the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum!