Shakespeare's words, ideas, and characters are central to American life and thought—even though he was an Englishman. But why is that, and how has his place in American culture changed over time, along with the country?
Through a fascinating selection of rare costumes, letters, books, and more, America's Shakespeare, curated by Folger Associate Librarian and Head of Reference Georgianna Ziegler, reveals how Americans have made Shakespeare our own. From the Revolutionary War to the latest digital media, Shakespeare is woven through debates on war, politics, race, and national identity, as well as advertising, education, literature, and entertainment. In ever-changing ways, his works are part of America's continuing conversation.
The exhibition takes on its vast subject through a broad range of materials, many of them from the Folger, which houses the world's largest Shakespeare collection. Some highlights include the first US edition of Shakespeare (1796); a New Orleans playbill for John Wilkes Booth in The Merchant of Venice in 1864, about a year before he killed Abraham Lincoln; a costume design for Paul Robeson's Broadway run as Othello during World War II; and clips from the first US televised Shakespeare production—an Amherst College production at the Folger, aired by NBC in 1949.
Audio, video and interactive displays throughout the exhibition will include historic recordings and film clips of American performances and much more.