AAFSW’s Members Explore the Deep Connection Between Shakespeare and America

AAFSW members visiting the Folger Shakespeare Library.

To launch the Thanksgiving holiday, AAFSW members braved a cold and windy morning on Tuesday, November 20th to reach the Folger Shakespeare Library, the opulent Elizabethan monument and its neoclassical white marble exterior, built in harmony with the Library of Congress, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court.

The chief architect for the Folger Shakespeare Library was Paul Philippe Cret, a well-known Philadelphia architect and French emigré who had trained in the Beaux Arts tradition in Paris. Some of his previous projects included the Pan American Union in Washington and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Once inside the Tudor England-like designed building, with oak paneling, ornamental floor tile, and high plaster ceilings, AAFSW members were warmly welcomed by Sheila Switzer, AAFSW Program Chair and Joanna Athanosopoulos Owen, AAFSW President to a special guided tour of the Library’s Churchill’s Shakespeare exhibit.

A fascinating visit followed, recalling Britain’s prime minister for almost all of World War II, Winston Churchill, “best remembered for his leadership and stirring speeches during that time, inspired by his lifelong interest in Shakespeare, as his words kept up the courage of many around the world.” Curated by Georgianna Ziegler, Associate Librarian and Head of Reference Emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, with generous curatorial and collections support from the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, the exhibition tells the story of Shakespeare’s influence on Churchill’s oratory by bringing together for the first time almost 50 rare and sometimes unique materials from the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge; Churchill’s home, Chartwell, courtesy of the National Trust; and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Among the many items on view, guests were able to see a rare bow tie, bowler hat, and walking stick, parts of Churchill’s familiar apparel; German, French, and British illustrated editions of Hamlet from just before and after World War I; letters between Churchill and his wife, Clementine; manuscripts and marked-up proofs of several of Churchill’s World War II speeches and his numerous books; and copies of Shakespeare presented to him by friends early and late in his career.

Then, the knowledgeable guide introduced the guests to the history of the library, and the Folger Shakespeare Library’s founders, Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger, who established the Folger in 1932 as a gift to the American people. Throughout a long career in the oil industry, Henry Folger, with his wife’s assistance, built the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials, from his belief that “the poet is one of our best sources, one of the wells from which we Americans draw our national thought, our faith and our hope,” and the belief in the deep connection between Shakespeare and America.

After a visit to the private reception room, designed by Emily Folger, guests were shown the Folger reading rooms where scholars from all over the world come to use the Folger’s Shakespeare and early modern collections. Each day, a flag is raised to represent the country of each foreign visiting scholar.

Guests ended the visit viewing the rare facsimile of the Folger’s unique first quarto of Titus Andronicus (1594), while debating The Oxford arguments, or why Shakespeare could not have authored his works. The Shakespeare authorship question argues that someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the plays attributed to him. Anti-Stratfordians—a collective term for adherents of the various alternative-authorship theories—believe that Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was a front to shield the identity of the real author or authors, who for some reason did not want or could not accept public credit.

The lively argument ended this fascinating historical visit with smiles and laughter, and AAFSW’s friends continued on their way to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

Celine Erickson
AAFSW Spouses/Families in Transition Chair