This year, Shakespeare fans the world over will be marking 450 years since the birth of the “Bard of Avon.” Some may even plan a trip to visit the world’s largest collection of materials by and about him. They won’t find it in the U.K., but rather right here in D.C. We talk to the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library about the history of the institution, how they’re marking this banner year and why the work of England’s preeminent poet and playwright continues to resonate with modern American readers.

Guests

  • Michael Witmore director, Folger Shakespeare Library

Transcript

  • 12:24:21

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAs Malvolio says in "Twelfth Night," some are born great, some achieve greatness. And others have greatness thrust upon them. Perhaps all three were true of William Shakespeare. His talent is so outsized, it seems it could only have been innate. His writing, which could easily have been lost to us is so transcendent. It continues to resonate centuries after his death. And, well, have trusted upon him.

  • 12:24:44

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe, who these many years, has continued to read, analyze, watch, perform and interpret his works. This is perhaps especially true here in the U.S. where we have adopted his cannon as a staple in our classrooms and where you'll find a repository containing more of his writing and materials about him than you'll find any place else in the world right in our backyard. Well, the Library of Congress' backyard if you want to be literal about it.

  • 12:25:10

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd we do. Because as Hamlet told Polonius, it's all words, words, words. And meaning matters. So here to talk about -- talk with us about the man behind some of the English language's most read and recited words is Michael Witmore. Mike Witmore is the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library here in Washington, D.C. and the working group for digital inquiry. He is the author of several books. The latest of which is "Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare." Mike Witmore, good to have you in studio.

  • 12:25:40

    MR. MICHAEL WITMOREIt's a pleasure to be here, Kojo.

  • 12:25:42

    NNAMDIThank you for joining us. Before we get to Shakespeare himself, I'm curious to know how you became a scholar of his work. What hooked you?

  • 12:25:50

    WITMOREWell, the plays are just so beautiful and interesting. I grew up in a family, which read the King James bible regularly. And when I discovered Shakespeare in high school, I realized this is language that I know and understand but it's something...

  • 12:26:05

    NNAMDITelling a slightly different story.

  • 12:26:07

    WITMOREExactly, a different story and it opened up a whole world for me, which kept opening up. When I came to Washington, my first paying job was I was a telemarketer for the Folger Theater. And I got to see a lot of the plays that were staged in the theater and it made me understand that these are wonderfully built plays, not just full of great words, but great action. And that helped me decide to go to grad school and study Shakespeare.

  • 12:26:34

    NNAMDIYour interest sparked your career and you now head the Folger Shakespeare Library here in Washington. For those who do not know the story, who were these Folgers and how did they become so interested in Shakespeare?

  • 12:26:45

    WITMOREWell, these Folgers were from a family -- Mr. Folger was from a family in Nantucket and the family is actually named in Melville's "Moby Dick." That family -- when Folger left Nantucket and went to Amherst College, he then was in New York and became head of Standard Oil. He amassed a fortune. He married Emily Folger, who knew a lot about Shakespeare. And together they collected books in their spare time and assembled the single greatest collection of documents connected to Shakespeare in the world.

  • 12:27:21

    NNAMDIIt wasn't easy, though, because neighbors include the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. How did the Folger come to be established in that particular spot?

  • 12:27:31

    WITMOREWell, it's an interesting story. It's said that they stopped over on a trip at Union Station and took a walk. And Mr. Folger and Mrs. Folger looked at that little stretch next to the Jefferson Building and said, that's a wonderful place for our library. So at one point, they read in the paper that the Library of Congress was going to expand into that lot. Mr. Folger wrote a letter to the librarian of Congress and said, I need you to stop that legislation. I have a significant collection of Shakespeareana and I would like to make it a gift to the nation.

  • 12:28:05

    NNAMDIAnd did he already own the land next to the Library of Congress at that point?

  • 12:28:09

    WITMOREHe had bought up that row of houses where the library now is. So he had his plans in place. But he would have -- he could have been trumped by the Congress.

  • 12:28:22

    NNAMDIAnd how did the Library of Congress respond to his request?

  • 12:28:26

    WITMOREWell, we have the correspondence in our vault. And the librarian said immediately yes, I would love to help you do this. And he wrote to the chairman of the committee that was making the -- that was writing the bill to allocate the land to the Library of Congress. So I think he had support. And how could you not? He had 82 first folios that no other institution will ever come close to having that number of these precious books. The single greatest source for the plays. And he had all these other wonderful material around it.

  • 12:29:00

    NNAMDISee, the early 1930s were a time of cooperation here in Washington, D.C. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to participate in this conversation. Why do you think Shakespeare's writing continues to resonate with modern audiences? 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org and ask a question or make a comment there. We're talking with Mike Witmore.

  • 12:29:28

    NNAMDIHe is the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. and the Working Group for Digital Inquiry. He's the author of several books. The latest of which of "Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare." Some D.C. residents are regular Folger visitors, others have never been there. Do you have a typical visitor? Who generally -- who are your visitors? How would you characterize your visitors?

  • 12:29:52

    WITMOREWell, our visitors are people who want to know more. Shakespeare is the most widely read secular author in the world. So if we had been named the Christopher Marlow Library, I think we'd have fewer visitors. But most people have heard of Shakespeare. And when they come to see us, they come to see exhibitions. So you can come in and see a first folio. We've got a wonderful show coming up in 2014, where our staff have picked their favorite items from the collection.

  • 12:30:20

    WITMORESo if you want to learn more about Shakespeare and feel included in his world, I think we're the place to visit. We've also got a working theater. We perform three plays a year inside a tudor indoor -- it's a kind of a mix between a courtyard theater and a theater like the Globe. We also have people who come to visit us because they want to read the books.

  • 12:30:45

    NNAMDIAnd location helps a lot because you are in the center of the Spoken Word Square.

  • 12:30:52

    WITMOREOh, I'm so glad to hear you say that.

  • 12:30:54

    NNAMDIIn Washington, D.C. You've got the Supreme Court, you've got the Library of Congress, and right there the Folger. So I'm assuming some people just kind of wander in.

  • 12:31:02

    WITMOREWell, they do. And we like that. I think -- you look east of the Capitol and you've got -- it's word central, you know. You've got the Supreme Court, you've got the Congress, the Library of Congress, these are all the institutions that preserve and help us understand the importance of the written word and the spoken word.

  • 12:31:23

    NNAMDIThis year marks the 450th since Shakespeare's birth. For some, questions still swirl of exactly who he was, which I imagine you get asked a lot. How do you answer those who wonder?

  • 12:31:36

    WITMOREWell, you know, scholars don't lose sleep about this question. And I've been asked when the film "Anonymous" came out I was asked by the media, what is the Folger Shakespeare Library's position on the authorship question. And I think the answer for us is, we're a library. We don't have a position, but we have a collection. And if you're curious about who Shakespeare was, he -- we have the documents that will help you understand that.

  • 12:32:03

    WITMOREAnd most working scholars who look at this question don't lose sleep over it. I think there are better questions to ask about Shakespeare. For example, whether he was protestant or catholic?

  • 12:32:15

    NNAMDIWhich was he?

  • 12:32:18

    WITMOREI think he knew a lot about Catholicism and he lived in a world that was reeling from the Protestant reformation. So a lot of those tensions are played out in his plays.

  • 12:32:28

    NNAMDITell us a little bit more about how you'll be celebrating the birth of this man, we'll refer to now as the undisputed bard.

  • 12:32:34

    WITMOREUndisputed. Well, we're going to celebrate in a couple of ways. The celebration begins in 2014 and it ends in 2016 which is then the 450th or the 400th anniversary of his death. So we'll have this show in our exhibition hall, which is highlights from our collection chosen from those who know it best. But going through 2014 to 2016, there's a whole range of events that we've got.

  • 12:33:04

    WITMOREI think the culminating point will be when we do an exhibition in 2016 with the British Library in London. We will assemble the documents that are directly connected to Shakespeare's life. And that show will be both with us in Washington and in London.

  • 12:33:20

    NNAMDIPut on your headphones please because we're about to start taking calls. We'll start with David in Sandy Spring, MD. David, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 12:33:29

    DAVIDFirst of all, thank you for a priceless asset. Number two, do you have an endowment that would make you Congress-proof? And three, are you above water?

  • 12:33:44

    WITMOREWell, I don't know that anyone is Congress-proof. But we do have an endowment. It's managed by Mr. Folger's alma mater, Amherst College. So we have the ability to be stable and running a research library like ours and continuing to collect really takes up the most of those resources. But I do think we're here for another 400 years, if the floods don't come to Washington. We are on Capitol Hill and we're going to make these documents live for another 400 years.

  • 12:34:19

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, David. We move on now to Al who is in Fairfax, VA. Al, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 12:34:27

    ALYes. And I don't mean any disrespect to this gentleman's work, but I believe Shakespeare's work and like many other famous artists are not really that special, it's all been perpetuated by good salesmanship and marketing after the artists have died. So, you know, a lot of this is a lot of hype. So that's all I want. Thank you.

  • 12:34:49

    NNAMDIWhere in the pantheon of writers you admire would Shakespeare fall?

  • 12:34:56

    ALWell, in terms of writing levels, I don't want to comment on that. It's just that there are a lot of good writers and there are a lot of famous Armenian writers specifically, and I'm Armenian, and you don't hear about them because there's nobody good enough to market and sell that information. So, and perpetuates through, and I became familiar with Shakespeare because of a private school that my children went to where the headmaster, as he preferred to be called, would impose Shakespeare plays on 7th and 8th graders.

  • 12:35:29

    ALHighly inappropriate topics and way beyond their maturity. And I just saw how ridiculous a lot of the writings and themes were, especially for that age. But just beyond that, it really is just marketing and hype.

  • 12:35:43

    NNAMDIAl, thank you very much for your call. How do you respond to Al, Mike Witmore? He says, it's all hype and don't believe the hype.

  • 12:35:52

    WITMOREWell, I think that everyone's got a right to an opinion. And I think we live in a world where there's room for a lot of different kinds of writing. Shakespeare's writing has lasted because he himself understood how to market his plays. He took a take on the door at his theater and he wanted to write plays that connect. So half of our planet, people who are in secondary education are reading or seeing a Shakespeare play.

  • 12:36:18

    WITMOREReading the play or seeing it performed. That reaches just incredible and I think it's hard to imagine any single person getting that kind of exposure and having that kind of standing. But I don't think it's just a conspiracy of English professors. Working alongside the Folger to make people love this playwright -- when I taught at the University of Wisconsin, we couldn't put enough Shakespeare professors in classrooms to teach the number of people who wanted to take these classes.

  • 12:36:48

    WITMORESo from my point of view, there's a lot of people who want to know more about this great writer. They kind of already know about him. But there's more to learn.

  • 12:37:00

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. Al, thank you for your call. What is your earliest memory of being exposed to Shakespeare's work? You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. Are you a regular visitor to the Folger or have you not been? Tell us what keeps you going back or what it would take to bring you in? 800-433-8850. Mike, the Folger is a major research institution.

  • 12:37:24

    NNAMDIAnd it's my understanding that you draw scholars from around the world. Why do you think that both Shakespeare's work and his life continue to capture people's imagination, with the exception of Al, centuries after he lived?

  • 12:37:37

    WITMOREWell, he had that gift of thinking complex thoughts but being able to express them in language that people could understand. And he lived in a world where people really paid attention to language. The world that Shakespeare lives in in London is now just drawing in thousands of people. From the countryside, you've got mercantile capitalism starting, global exploration, science, the renaissance.

  • 12:38:03

    WITMOREAnd so it was a, I think, a matter of a man with incredible gifts arriving at a moment when there were people to feed him ideas and who would appreciate what he had to say. So when we come and look at our collection, which covers the entire renaissance, Shakespeare is a bit like the website of the renaissance. You start with one word, and you can connect to this book and this book. And I think that's one of the reasons why scholars love it.

  • 12:38:28

    NNAMDIWhat do you think made him as prolific as he was?

  • 12:38:31

    WITMOREOh, he must have been very hardworking. And I think the fact that he was paid for his work helped.

  • 12:38:37

    NNAMDIYeah, that does help. For most of our audience, Shakespeare was likely required reading during their formative years, maybe in high school. Some people take to it immediately, others struggle and never find joy in it. How does the Folger Shakespeare Library help students better understand Shakespeare today?

  • 12:38:56

    WITMOREWell, Kojo, that's a great question. I've been reading Shakespeare for a long time and I think Shakespeare's works are really hard. The writing is -- you can see it in action on the stage and that's the best way to understand what's going on. And after you've seen it, you can sit down and read it and get even more. But we are in D.C. schools and schools across the country doing performance-based education.

  • 12:39:20

    WITMOREAnd what happens is you could be sitting in a desk reading a book and a paperback, but you could also just stand up and read the words. So we believe that getting students out of their seats, having them talk to others and do scenes is the best way to get your mind around this incredible language in action.

  • 12:39:40

    NNAMDIIn November of last year in partnership with Luminary Digital Media and Simon and Schuster, the Folger launched the first three plays in the Folger Luminary Shakespeare app series. Tell us about that.

  • 12:39:51

    WITMOREWell, there are now five of them. But we've created these apps around the five most popular Shakespeare plays. And what they do is they take the Folger editions, which are the trusted editions, they're the most widely adopted in American high schools. They let you read the text, but then will also perform it for you and you can hear the words spoken.

  • 12:40:11

    WITMOREAnd then what we've done is added this landmarking system so the teachers can send students home and say, I'd like you to look at these five passages. And then I'd like you to talk to each other on Facebook or other forms of social media and start to work on that, so that by the time students come back in the classroom they've read it, they've talked about it and it's time to push it to the next level.

  • 12:40:33

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call the number's 800-433-8850. Do you have a favorite Shakespearian play or sonnet? Tell us what it is and why you love it, 800-433-8850 or shoot us a tweet to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:42:46

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Michael Witmore. Mike Witmore is the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library here in Washington, and the Working Group for Digital Inquiry. He is the author of several books, the latest of which is "Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare." You can call us, 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.

  • 12:43:14

    NNAMDIMike, as Hamlet says, the play is the thing. And seeing productions of the bard's work or performing it has helped many -- certainly yours truly -- better understand the work. Have you found that to be true?

  • 12:43:26

    WITMOREOh, I think it's crucial.

  • 12:43:29

    NNAMDIYou are something of a thespian yourself, aren't you?

  • 12:43:33

    WITMORESo I played Elbow in "Measure for Measure," when I was a junior in college. I think it's better that I'm not on stage. But I like seeing the plays and when I saw -- it was Michael Kahn's 12th night at the Folger. I think I saw it four times because if you were working for the Folger you could see the play over and over again. And I realized what a wonderfully built contraption that play is. Everything happens at the right time. The characters are just marvelous.

  • 12:44:03

    WITMOREAnd it's a three-dimensional, four-dimensional art form, you know. It happens in a space, in a place and these words are the soundtrack. They're also the action. But you've got to see it, hear it and feel it.

  • 12:44:18

    NNAMDIIndeed. I was mentioning to you in the break that I saw the Spaghetti Western version of "The Taming of the Shrew," at the Folger. And all of a sudden a play -- that if you simply read it, is not that clear -- you see it as a western and it becomes stunningly clear.

  • 12:44:34

    WITMOREYeah, well, the plays are funny. They're chameleons. You can set them in one place, like the West, and certain plays come alive. And some plays that are dead to us now will be very exciting 100 years from now because they'll speak to some other moment or idea.

  • 12:44:53

    NNAMDIHere is Patrick, in Laurel, Md. Patrick, your turn.

  • 12:44:57

    PATRICKHi, Kojo. First-time caller, kind of nervous.

  • 12:44:59

    NNAMDIThanks.

  • 12:45:02

    PATRICKI just wanted to share my experience with Shakespeare. I am also somewhat of a thespian. I grew up acting. I was in "Richard III," and then later did a college recreation of "Lear," in which I played Edgar. And I love it. And I've continued my love of Shakespeare as a teacher because…

  • 12:45:22

    WITMOREGreat.

  • 12:45:23

    PATRICK…he is incredibly inventive and his use of words is beautiful. And it's a great way to show students -- especially students of English as a second language…

  • 12:45:35

    WITMOREYes.

  • 12:45:35

    PATRICK…how fluid and malleable the English language is. And it's -- it's -- and I love it. I also I wanted to mention that I've seen several of his plays at the Blackfriars Playhouse.

  • 12:45:49

    WITMOREWonderful.

  • 12:45:50

    PATRICKAnd I don't remember exactly it is. It's out in Virginia.

  • 12:45:53

    WITMOREIt's Stanton, Va.

  • 12:45:53

    PATRICKIt's a wonderful recreation stage. Love it very much.

  • 12:45:57

    NNAMDIStanton, Va., says Mike.

  • 12:45:59

    WITMOREIt's a wonderful place and we have a kinship with the folks at Blackfriars because we are both very excited about using performance to think more deeply about what the plays mean and to reconnect to history. So if you go to Stanton you can see the plays performed in an indoor theater. We've got one, too. And we've also got a research division and a library and we're delighted that we get the chance to put all those things together. With a writer like Shakespeare you really can.

  • 12:46:28

    WITMOREBut to speak to your other point about English as a second language, sometimes it's an advantage not to be a native speaker because you move more slowly through the words. And I think there are things that non-native speakers can pick up more readily in these plays.

  • 12:46:47

    NNAMDIHas that been your experience, Nelson (sic) ?

  • 12:46:52

    PATRICKYes, it has. I just love it as a teaching tool. And I found that students and any reader really can find their own little niche in Shakespeare and find their own understanding.

  • 12:47:05

    NNAMDII'm sorry. You're speaking with Patrick. Patrick, thank you very much for your call. We're now moving on…

  • 12:47:08

    WITMOREThanks, Patrick.

  • 12:47:09

    NNAMDI…to Nelson in Silver Spring, Md. Nelson, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:47:14

    NELSONHello. I just want to say that I -- I'll try to be very brief. I came out of the hospital with polio at a time when television was -- in the '50s. And my mother put me in front of a television as I was recovering. And it was Million Dollar Movie. And television programming those days was really scant, scarce. And so Million Dollar Movie showed Olivier's "Hamlet." It also showed Orson Welles's "Macbeth," and the "Romeo and Juliet," with Laurence Harvey.

  • 12:47:46

    NELSONAnd I sat there day after day watching the plays over and over again. And it's not by accident when I hit about eight or nine years old I found a book, Marchette Chute's "Stories from Shakespeare," which I'd recommend to any child to read because it's the Shakespeare plots and stories in fiction with language interspersed. But what I really wanted to say about Shakespeare, in respect to your previous caller, is that at a time when England was on the rise as a nation, "The Gutenberg Galaxy," of course -- the printing had come out. Shakespeare did for the English language what Bach did with the "Well-Tempered Clavier," for European music.

  • 12:48:27

    NELSONI mean he really created the scales and chords of the English language that we all still use today, that all writers use today. And, you know, of course the writings of Melville, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, I mean they're all infused with the language of Shakespeare and it's not by accident. You have to -- he's the source of it all.

  • 12:48:45

    NNAMDIWhat do you say, Mike Witmore?

  • 12:48:46

    WITMOREWell, I agree with some of what you've said. I think there are a lot of sources for what we say and what writers are writing now, but if Shakespeare had been born 200 years earlier we wouldn't be talking about him. The fact the printing press was around and printing was alive in England, print was one of those mass communications media that fell in love with Shakespeare. He wrote great stories. From a media perspective we could say that he was one of the great content providers for print. And subsequent media forms just fell in love with him.

  • 12:49:22

    WITMOREYou've got radio, television, film, now internet. The sonnets were encoded into a DNA strand of a virus when we were -- there's a scientist trying to creating a mass storage medium using DNA. So, you know, it's like every new way of talking to each other and convening ourselves in communities, Shakespeare is often there to help us figure out how to do it.

  • 12:49:49

    NNAMDIThere are few corners of life that technology has left untouched, Shakespeare scholarship included. How are you using new tools to both make his work more available and to learn more about it?

  • 12:50:01

    WITMOREWell, I think we're at a second Gutenberg moment. The entirety of everything that was published in English from 1473 to 1700 will be available in transcribed form to just about anyone in 15 years, for free. And when you have that kind of massive access to these documents, new kind of questions -- new questions can be asked. So at the Folger we are convening research teams to start looking at these bigger pictures. We're also trying to transcribe the documents that we've got, especially our manuscripts and make them available to people.

  • 12:50:37

    WITMOREYou could be a professional, but you could also be a citizen and you want to contribute to a research project. Well, we think you can help. And that's one of the things that digital media and technology allows us to do, is to bring more people into the research circle.

  • 12:50:54

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Steve, in Silver Spring, Md., wanting to, in part, berate a point made earlier. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead please.

  • 12:51:04

    STEVEKojo, is that you?

  • 12:51:06

    NNAMDIYes. That's me, Steve.

  • 12:51:07

    STEVEKojo, you're the man. I love your show. And anyway, happy New Year. And Shakespeare, as long as they can keep it real, because I was telling your operator there, I like the Shakespeare thing, but during when I was growing up in junior high I couldn't understand that old English. They've got to (unintelligible) the stuff. You know what I mean? (laughter)

  • 12:51:26

    NNAMDIWell, in high school we had to do Chaucer, so good luck with that.

  • 12:51:29

    STEVEIf it wasn't for Cliff Notes I wouldn't have made it through junior high, I'll tell you that. No. But I liked the idea. And you know when I got older I liked Shakespeare even more. So maybe if they just keep it simple, you know, KIS theory.

  • 12:51:43

    NNAMDIKeep It Simple.

  • 12:51:44

    STEVEKeep It Simple.

  • 12:51:45

    WITMOREYeah.

  • 12:51:45

    NNAMDIMike Witmore?

  • 12:51:47

    STEVE(unintelligible) guys.

  • 12:51:49

    WITMORENice to talk to you.

  • 12:51:50

    NNAMDINice talking to you, Steve.

  • 12:51:51

    WITMOREThe stories are sometimes very simple, two people love each, they can't get together and so it takes five acts to sort all that out. And when you're a kid there are some things you can grasp. Things like -- maybe not love, but revenge. You can see a play like "Romeo and Juliet," and get the basics of the story and you've heard the language at least once. I think the earlier you hear the language the less likely you are to reject it the next time you hear it.

  • 12:52:24

    WITMOREAnd that's why I think we should use the original language whenever we first start learning the plays and you immerse yourself in it. If you need to read the Cliff Notes, fine. It's more than the plot and if you need that help with the plot that's fine, but, you know, what you really want to get is the emotions and the language.

  • 12:52:46

    NNAMDIGloria, in Fort Washington, Md. Gloria, it is your turn. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:52:51

    GLORIAThank you very much. I'm a first-time caller. And I am madly, avidly in love with Shakespeare. And I was one of the first blind students to go to public school in New Jersey. That's where I'm from. My mother had the common sense to realize that integration into a sighted world would better prepare me than being isolated in a world that was adapted to me. And I met Shakespeare when I was a 9th grader and had to write a book report. And I started with what was called "The Lambs Tales." They were simplified. Charles and Mary Lamb had put together these simplified versions, but the language was there, the plot was there.

  • 12:53:37

    GLORIAAnd what it did was wet my appetite for the real thing. And my questions for you would be, you know, like most people who are living in a crisis on a fixed income I don't do enough stuff that really is just for me. One of the things I'm seriously considering doing just for me -- I've never visited Folger. I almost visited…

  • 12:54:03

    WITMOREOh, come and see us.

  • 12:54:04

    GLORIAYou know, I need to do that. I almost visited as an audition tryout for your theater. You don't want me to do that now, I'm 76. That was a long time ago. (laugh)

  • 12:54:13

    NNAMDIYou can still do that.

  • 12:54:14

    GLORIAPromise me you wouldn't…

  • 12:54:15

    WITMOREPlenty of parts in the plays that you could do.

  • 12:54:17

    GLORIABut, listen, don't tempt me. I would. But I want to come and visit. I'm wondering about things that you have that are adapted so that I can get at them. Do you have audio versions of…

  • 12:54:31

    WITMOREYes.

  • 12:54:32

    GLORIABlind people can't see, you know, that's the problem.

  • 12:54:34

    WITMOREWell, we just recorded five of the plays with our theater company and those are available on the app, but we'll also make those available as downloadable mp3 audio files. So we're working on the distribution system for that, but that's coming soon. And, you know, I'd be delighted if we could read and perform those plays for you remotely, using those performances because there are many ways into this writer.

  • 12:55:05

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Gloria. Here is George, in Berlin, Md. George, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:55:13

    GEORGEThank you, Kojo, for doing a show about the Folger. It's been some time since I had the occasion to visit it and I found, apart from the gift shop, it seemed more like a research facility than any kind of a marketing operation. But I do question the concentration of 81 first folios in one location. I think we'd be better served by spreading them around the nation. Also I think while there are many forms access to Shakespeare now, they were essentially written to be seen on the stage. And I think Folger would do well to sponsor more performances like those at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London. Thank you very much.

  • 12:55:53

    WITMOREWell, you raise an issue that's near and dear to my heart, which is how do you give access to precious documents? And I agree that there are risks to having 82 first folios in one place. Now, we've built our environment to take care of them and they're difficult to take care of. So just sending them on the road is not a good idea, but in 2016 we would like to send a first folio to every state and to four territories, so that people can see this incredible book firsthand. And I agree with you, that institutions like the Folger have an obligation to explain and engage others with these materials we have. And that includes bringing people into the research process and explaining why it's important.

  • 12:56:40

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got an email from Mark, who said, "Shakespeare had been dead and world-renowned for 300 years before the Folgers began to amass their collection. Great English institutions, not to mention others, presumably had already avidly collected Shakespeare materials. How is it that the Folgers, starting at a relatively late date, were able to assemble a collection of Shakespeareana which far out paces any other?"

  • 12:57:04

    WITMOREWell, I think it was dedication, focus, talent and money. Mrs. Folger, who had gone to Vassar, had studied Shakespeare and studied the first folio, so she knew it was an important book. And he was a very canny book buyer. He didn't draw attention to himself. He quietly bought as many first folios as he could. And it was a moment in British culture when families who owned some of these books were looking to sell those items to take care of debts. And on the one hand I think it is a real loss for Britain. On the other hand, we represent the connection between Britain and America and it's a strong one. And it's good for everybody to have that material spread around.

  • 12:57:48

    NNAMDIFinally, Mark emails, "Thank you for having your festival for school groups. My daughter appeared on the Folger's stage when she was in middle school and she'll be able to claim that distinction her entire life, while I as a parent will be able to claim that about my daughter."

  • 12:58:01

    WITMOREFantastic. Fantastic.

  • 12:58:02

    NNAMDIMichael Witmore is the director of the Folgers Shakespeare Library, in Washington, D.C., and the Working Group for Digital Inquiry. His latest book is called, "Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare." Mike Witmore, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:15

    WITMOREThank you very much, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here.

  • 12:58:17

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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