“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” ~William Shakespeare
I visited my friend, Jerm, and his family last week in Washington, D.C. His wife works at Folger Shakespeare Library and suggested I check it out. If a Shakespeare nerd can’t geek out at a place like Folger Shakespeare Library, where can she?
The main exhibit hall was under construction, but there were a few smaller exhibits out, a theater, and an Elizabethan garden for me to roam. Little did I know I could take pictures inside with no flash. I thought I was being sneaky getting a picture of the folio with my camera phone. I really wanted a picture of my favorite part, the Robben Island Shakespeare Exhibit. Sonny Venkatrathnam, a prisoner at Robben Island, circulated his copy of The Alexander Text of the Complete Works of Shakespeare (covered in Diwali cards) to other prisoners and asked only that they sign their name next to their favorite passage.
Part of the exhibit is a tiny “room” which displays the open book to where Nelson Mandela signed by a passage of Julius Caesar. It also displays some of Mandela’s sketches of Robben Island as well as a letter. Standing in that tiny room I was overwhelmed. The most well-known political prisoner of our time, along with many other political prisoners, took some inspiration from my favorite writer. I was in a room with his artwork, a hand written letter, and the book he signed. A man imprisoned for speaking out against the ruling government, freed from his physical prison, then went on to rule his nation. I was standing in the midst of greatness. Shakespeare, Mandela, and others who dared to fight their oppressive government. If it weren’t for Sjögren’s Syndrome messing with my tear ducts, I would have left that room a blubbering mess.
The library has an Elizabethan replica theater without the additional stage area where fights would take place. There are also seats in the main floor area where there would be just open standing area. Just standing in the middle of the theater brought me a feeling of peace. I took part in a handful of musicals and plays, but I would never consider myself a thespian. I do love theater. I love watching stories played out on the stage right before me. I love the intensity that actors and dancers have while on stage.
A security guard noticed me checking out the woodwork and the ceiling when she walked in and told me I could go upstairs to the second floor. She had to tell me twice because I didn’t believe her. I sat in a chair on the second floor after walking around and just enjoyed the moment of being. How often does one get to be in a theater alone?
There is so much more I could share with you about the exhibits, the buildings, the Folgers, but I am still taken with the visceral reactions I had with the Robben Island exhibit and the theater. If you are in Washington, D.C., I encourage you to add the Folger Shakespeare Library to your list of things to see.
“I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.” ~Nelson Mandela