Exhibit | January 12, 2012

Shakespeare's Sisters at the Folger

(Washington, DC)  Shakespeare’s heroine Rosalind criticizes the verses penned by her lover Orlando: “some of them had in them more feet than the verses would bear.”  No doubt she would write better ones, but Shakespeare doesn’t give her a chance.  Did he know any women writers?  Had he read any women’s verses circulating in collections among his acquaintance?  We may never know, but we do know that many women of the time, from aristocrats to courtesans, wrote on a range of topics from the spiritual to the sensual.  

Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700 showcases the emerging diversity of early women authors and suggests how this rich legacy has shaped subsequent writing and scholarship.

“For generations, the emphasis was on the canon of male writers’ works, which was of course established by men. Many works by early female authors have only been uncovered in the last 50 years by scholars interested in women’s writing. The first wave of feminist scholarship rooted in the archives to search for works by women writers. Now there is biographical and critical research on specific women writers and  an ongoing attempt to include them in the canon,” says exhibition curator Georgianna Ziegler.

The exhibition title, Shakespeare’s Sisters, is inspired in part by an influential essay by Virginia Woolf. In A Room of One’s Own (1929), Woolf imagined a sister for Shakespeare called Judith, who wanted to be a playwright like her brother, but was unable to pursue a career as a professional writer because of her gender.

In the near century since A Room of One’s Own was published, scholarship has uncovered previously unknown works by women—female authors who were “Shakespeare’s sisters” in literary enterprise.

“Women writers Shakespeare might have known is one of those questions, like many questions, we wish we could ask Shakespeare if he were around,” says Ziegler. “There is some thinking that Shakespeare might have known The Tragedy of Mariam by Elizabeth Cary. It has an Othello-like plot, but it was not written to be performed on a stage, so it is hard to say whether he might have been familiar with it.”

Many works were not published during the authors’ lifetimes, or survive in only a few copies. To rediscover these works, researchers delved into libraries, archives, or other repositories and simply “dug around,” as Ziegler describes it.  

Knowledge of these women and their works is now more readily available than ever before, and the exhibition showcases the works of over fifty women writers and literary patrons from England, France, and Italy.

Exhibition Highlights

Shakespeare’s Sisters features early printed and manuscript works by Shakespeare’s female contemporaries, as well as portraits and other artwork. The exhibition includes seventy-five items from the Folger collection, as well as materials from the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Beinecke Library at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, the Library of Congress, and a private collection.

Highlights include: ??
??    First edition. An original printing of Virginia Woolf’s classic text, A Room of One’s Own, first published in 1929.
??    Private musings. Lady Anne Clifford was a voracious reader and diarist.  On display is her own annotated copy of John Selden’s 1631 Titles of Honor and a 1923 printed edition of her diary edited by her descendent, Vita Sackville-West.
??    Mixed metaphors. Marguerite of Navarre, queen consort to the king of France, wrote on widely varying topics, from devout religious poetry to short stories on love and relationships. Her intense—and controversial—allegorical poem Miroir de l'âme pécheresse (Mirror of the Sinful Soul) as well as her story collection The Heptameron are both featured in the exhibition.
??    Love poems. Italian courtesan Veronica Franco, whose life inspired the film Dangerous Beauty, earned acclaim for her passionate poetry.   
??    Royal religion. Queen Catharine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, wrote several books, including Prayers Stirring the Mind.
??    Women playwrights.  Plays by Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre and others who were the first Englishwomen to follow Shakespeare in writing professionally for the theater.

Shakespeare’s Sisters brings the works of early women writers—often neglected, ignored, or overlooked for centuries—to a wider audience and showcases the rich literary legacy of Shakespeare’s female contemporaries. Through these rediscovered works, the voices of Renaissance women are heard by modern audiences.  

Georgianna Ziegler is Louis B. Thalheimer Head of Reference.  She has been interested in early modern women for many years, writing a Ph.D. thesis on Queen Guinevere in medieval romance, and designing Davidson College’s first course on women writers when she was a member of the English faculty.  She has published on Elizabeth I, Elizabeth of Bohemia, Esther Inglis, and on female characters from Shakespeare, including Portia, Catharine of Aragon, and Lady Macbeth.  At the Folger she has curated exhibitions on Shakespeare’s Unruly Women and Elizabeth I: Then and Now.

10,000 Years of Women Writers
Join us for a series of readings, concerts, performances, and lectures celebrating the contributions of women to the arts. More information is available at www.folger.edu/womenwriters.

January 24-March 4
The Gaming Table
Whimsy, wit, and wordplay sparkle in this effervescent comedy by Susanna Centlivre, one of 18th-century London’s most popular playwrights. An independent-minded widow with a penchant for gambling holds a nightly card game teeming with revelers and rakes.
Hours: Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7pm
Tickets: $30-$60

February 16
Readings From Shakespeare’s Sisters
Rita Dove, Linda Gregerson, Elizabeth Nunez, Linda Pastan, and Jane Smiley read their commissioned poems and essays from the Shakespeare’s Sisters chapbook, published in conjunction with the Folger exhibition of the same name.
Hours: Thursday at 7pm
Tickets: TBA

February 25
Shake Up Your Saturdays
Learn about the women who dared to write poetry during and after Shakespeare's time in this free family workshop filled with history, activity, performance, and fun! A scavenger hunt takes young visitors through the Folger's Shakespeare's Sisters exhibit.
Hours: Saturday, 10-11am
Tickets: Free. Advance registration required. Email educate@folger.edu to register or for additional information.

March 2
Tilar Mazzeo & Stacy Schiff
Two female historians talk about grappling with the past and the stories that create it. Tilar Mazzeo is the bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot: The Story of the Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, and The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World’s Most Famous Perfume. Stacy Schiff is the author of Cleopatra, a #1 bestseller and named by The New York Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2010.
Hours: Friday at 7:30pm
Tickets: $15

March 5
Eavan Boland
Eavan Boland’s poems examine womanhood and history with a sheer, lyrical grace and skill. Boland has published ten volumes of poetry, including Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet, New Collected Poems, Domestic Violence, and An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967-87. She is the recipient of the Lannan Award for Poetry and an American Ireland Fund Literary Award.
Hours: Monday at 7:30pm
Tickets: $15

March 16-18
The Songbird
Francesca Caccini was one of the guiding spirits behind the revolutionary music of the earliest operas and the brilliant solo songs of the Baroque. Composer of a wide range of solo songs, duets, and stage music, she is perhaps best known for her La Liberazione di Ruggiero, the first opera by a woman, which premiered in 1625.
Hours: Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 5pm and 8pm, Sunday at 2pm
Tickets: $35

April 13-15
The City of Ladies
The French and Burgundian courts of the early 15th century fostered a culture that treasured its musicians, artist, and writers and the revelatory idea of beauty for its own sake. Influential writer Christine de Pizan lived at court in France and wrote City of Ladies during this time. One of her ballades, Dueil angoisseus, was set to music. This song and other pieces composed for court and chamber are performed by vocalists, fiddles, harps, lutes, and winds.
Hours: Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 5pm and 8pm, Sunday at 2pm
Tickets: $35

Online Resources
Visit www.folger.edu/shakespearessisters for an online version of Shakespeare’s Sisters, including images, an audio tour, and related information.  

Shakespeare’s Sisters: Women Writers Bridge Five Centuries
Edited by Gigi Bradford and Louisa Newlin
Thirteen women poets and authors—among them, former U.S. poets laureate Rita Dove and Maxine Kumin and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jane Smiley—respond to the works of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women writers in this elegantly designed, handbound collection of poetry and essays. 52 pages, softcover.  Available in the Folger Gift Shop for $19.95.

Monday - Friday at 11am & 3pm,Saturday at 11am & 1pm and Sunday at 1pm
Folger Docents offer guided tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger’s national landmark building, free of charge.  No advance reservations required.

Group Tours
Docent-led tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger national landmark building, are offered for groups of 10 or more.  To arrange, please call (202) 675-0395.

Guide by Cell Audio Tours
Visitors, using their own cell phones, can call (202) 595-1844 and follow the prompts for 150# through 167# to hear women scholars share personal comments on exhibition items.

Open City: London, 1500-1700
June 8-September 29, 2012
Kathleen Lynch and Betsy Walsh, Curators
Over the course of two centuries, London changed from the capital of England, secure within its medieval walls, to a metropolitan seat of empire. Open City explores activities and pressures that altered Londoners’ sense of community, focusing especially on three types of institutions that touched everyday lives: church, theater, and market. Drawing on materials as disparate as deeds, diaries, engravings, and maps, Open City illustrates the impact of new ideas, new products, and new people in this rapidly growing capital city.

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About Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library is a world-class center for scholarship, learning, culture, and the arts. It is home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500-1750). Folger Shakespeare Library is an internationally recognized research library offering advanced scholarly programs in the humanities; an innovator in the preservation of rare materials; a national leader in how Shakespeare is taught in grades K-12; and an award-winning producer of cultural and arts programs—theater, music, poetry, exhibitions, lectures, and family programs. By promoting understanding of Shakespeare and his world, Folger Shakespeare Library reminds us of the enduring influence of his works, the formative effects of the Renaissance on our own time, and the power of the written and spoken word. A gift to the American people from industrialist Henry Clay Folger, the Folger Shakespeare Library—located one block east of the U.S. Capitol—opened in 1932. Learn more at www.folger.edu