The Reading Room

The Folger, a little pocket of Elizabethan England on Capitol Hill, is both respite from the D.C. tourist circuit’s unbridled patriotism and a chance to experience Shakespeare’s era without the poor hygiene and rampant disease. The library itself is open only to researchers; the masses must be satisfied with a period theater and the rotating exhibits in the Great Hall.

The Folger owns 82 copies of the First Folio, the original collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays; one is always on view. The cozy, working theater was inspired by the innyards of London, where plays were sometimes performed, and the Elizabethan Garden grows herbs and flowers that are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. (There is rosemary, for remembrance — can you remember where that’s from?) The library covers more than Shakespeare, and the exhibits do, too — past topics include the King James Bible, Renaissance journalism and 16th-century dining.

Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, free; 202-544-4600. (Capitol South)

Did You Know?

›› Scholars have learned much about how bygone plays were staged from prompt books — play texts with notes from specific productions. The Folger has more than 1,800 prompt books, about half for Shakespeare works.

›› In 1973, Folger researchers discovered a 1669 play that was never performed and thought lost: Robert Howard’s “The Country Gentleman,” a comedy to which one politician added a scene insulting another politician, causing a ruckus.

›› Celebrated 18th-century Shakespearean actor David Garrick edited and performed a version of “Hamlet” in which Ophelia lives and, thus, the “Alas, poor Yorick” graveyard scene doesn’t happen.

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