Lesser Known DC: The Folger Shakespeare Library

A short walk east of the Capitol building and beyond the Supreme Court, you’ll find one of DC’s hidden gems–the Folger Shakespeare Library.  On my last visit, my husband insisted upon visiting even though we had no idea what we would see or do there.  He heard ‘Shakespeare’ and I heard ‘library’ and, being two huge nerds, we nodded in agreement and set off on our way.  Ah yes, the vacation of two English teachers.  It doesn’t get much better.

True, the Folger Shakespeare Library is probably not at the top of most DC visitors’ must-do lists, but it definitely warrants a visit.  Even without advance planning I was able to enjoy several aspects of the library.

First, there’s a charming garden on the property.  And yes, when I say ‘charming’ I do mean ‘small’.  But it is also informative, with little plaques set up around the various sculptures and gardens, describing the importance of each item during Elizabethan times.

After spending a few moments in the garden, enter the building and turn to your right.  You will find yourself in the Great Hall, the home to the library’s rotating featured exhibits and a pretty gorgeous room in its own right.  When I visited, Shakespeare’s Sisters was on display; an exhibit featuring the writings of women from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Currently on at the library is an exhibit titled Open City, a look at the growth of London during the fifteen and sixteen hundreds which runs through the end of the month (and, truth be told, looks pretty interesting.  But then I do have an old map of London hanging on my bathroom wall, so perhaps my version of ‘interesting’ is a bit skewed!)

I’ve saved the best part for last.  Once you’ve explored the gardens and the seasonal exhibit, go back out into the entry area and look for a rounded doorway with a set of stairs leading up.  They will take you to the balcony of the theater where, if you are lucky, you can watch the rehearsal for whatever show is on that month.  When we visited, we watched part of the rehearsal for Taming of the Shrew.  I don’t know the last time you saw Shakespeare performed on stage by people wearing ripped jeans, hockey jerseys, and in this case, an I ‘heart’ Pasadena t-shirt–but it was certainly a first for me.  If you are at all into theater, it’s an interesting, unique experience that I highly recommend.

Of course, with some advance planning, you can enjoy your visit to The Folger Shakespeare Library even more.  Had we planned ahead, we could have secured a spot on one of the many tours offered on site and, in fact, that is likely exactly what we will do on our next visit.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is located on East Capitol Street Northeast, between 2nd and 3rd.  The garden is along 3rd street and the main entrance doesn’t look very, well, main entrance-y.  Trust me–it’s the right door. 

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