The hundreds of celebrators out to enjoy the spring weather ate ice cream flavors dubbed "Romeo & Choculet," "Taming of the Chip," "Falstaff's Marble Fudge" and "Mocha Ado About Almonds." They listened to madrigal singers, milled about in sacrosanct reading rooms usually reserved for scholars, and competed in a medieval costume contest.

The high-ceilinged interior hallway was festooned with special floral arrangements, such as the one named "the primrose path of dalliance" from a Shakespearean verse. Inside the library's theater, there were Shakespearean skits. Queen Elizabeth I held court there and then presided over a front-lawn cake cutting for the assembled bard buffs.

Among the legions of docents presiding over the event was Selby Graham of Potomac, who said she raised her five grown children "according to Shakespeare," reciting such lines as "sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child" from "King Lear."

Graham was working the quill pen table, where celebrators could write their names on certificates noting their participation in the event, which the Folger has been holding annually for the past five years.

Nearby, Ann and Richard Etches, who run the brass rubbing center at the Washington Cathedral, were selling such souvenirs as miniature metal knights. Both British-born, they said they feel a special kinship to the 16th-century playwright.

"We grew up with him as sort of our bread and butter, I guess," said Ann Etches before turning her attention to a young customer. Sara Langley, 8, of Upper Marlboro, was having a tough time deciding whether to buy a miniature metal knight with a horse or without one. She finally chose two, a Crusader knight on horseback and an unmounted black knight.

Arthur Delaney 3rd, 3, also had his eye on a miniature, but his father, Arthur 2nd, a lawyer who lives on Capitol Hill, had other ideas. "Come on, we have those," the father said. "Let's get our face painted." A few minutes later Arthur 3rd was adorned with a pussycat moustache. "I want more blue," he told a volunteer.

For some, the costume contest highlighted the day's events. Most of the 14 costumed adults belonged to the Society for Creative Anachronism, a worldwide group that reenacts the period from the 7th century to the 17th century. In real life, those competing included an architect, a systems analyst and a high-tech communications installer.

In the children's division, the contest was taken very seriously. "There's more to life than winning, Roger," Mary Donovan told her 11-year-old son as he marched off to enter the costume contest. "Remember," she directed her other son, Derek, 7, who was wearing a Dracula cape, soccer socks and football pants, "hold the shield in front of the football uniform."

There were no losers. Derek was deemed to have the "best sword and shield" and Roger the "most interesting crest on a tunic." The other two contestants in the under-13 category, Amy Domingues, 12, and Heather Grosky, 8, won kudos for "best in the children's category" and "loveliest skirt," respectively.