As an historian, I spend most of my time between the 16th and 19th centuries, with an occasional stop in the 21st to check-in on reality. The majority of my research has focused on the 16th century over the last few years, but recently I have revisited the United States during its Civil War (1861-1865) in a new book project of my own. As such, early in June I spent a week in Washington, D.C. digging through the holdings of the Library of Congress, walking through the White House, and visiting Ford’s Theatre. I’m embarrassed to admit that, despite having worked and volunteered at a Lincoln museum for years, I still fight the urge to hold up a letter written by Lincoln and say, “Look, look! And they’re letting me hold it!”
Still, I couldn’t go to D.C. without visiting the Folger Shakespeare Library. It’s right there on Capitol Hill beside the Library of Congress. Since all of the Library of Congress’s departments close at 5:00pm on Tuesday, and since I had covered more ground than I expected to that day, I left an hour early and made my way to the Folger. The exhibits rotate throughout the year, so I am always guaranteed something new to view. Until September, the current exhibit is “Open City: London 1500, 1700.” As always, the exhibit is featured in the Great Hall, which features Elizabeth I’s coat of arms at one end of the hall, and the U.S. shield and eagle at the other. You can experience the building for yourself by taking the virtual tour here. The current exhibit is also available for a virtual stroll.
After a quick “hello” to Elizabeth’s Sieve Portrait, I was surprised by my husband with tickets to that night’s performance of The Taming of the Shrew. If you ever have the chance, watch Shakespeare’s plays as performed by artists who are trained in the art. It will blow you away.
In conclusion, if you are ever in the D.C. area, don’t forget the Folger. Yes, there is much to do in D.C., and the Founding Fathers demand their due attention, but don’t miss the opportunity to visit this national gift. After all, Shakespeare touched Lincoln, too.