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Shakespeare's 450th birthday is celebrated throughout 2014 at D.C.'s Folger

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"What the good-year, my lord!" as Shakespeare wrote in "Much Ado About Nothing".

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There's much ado about the good year 2014, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, at Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library.

"The sweet o' the year" o' this winter's tale began Jan. 28, with two openings at the renowned Folger: a free exhibition, "Shakespeare's the Thing", and the play, "Richard III".

The exhibit Jan. 28-June 15 features an "eclectic mix of staff favorites" from the Folger collection -- the world's largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials.

The display ranges from Shakespeare's 1623 First Folio, the first printed collection of Shakespeare's works, to a famous forged love letter to his eventual wife Anne Hathaway; from early editions of the plays to digital apps (Folger Luminary Shakespeare iPad App); and from a board game to a Sanskrit translation of "Hamlet".

The First Folio, one of the most important works in the English language, was assembled by two actors after Shakespeare died in 1616. Had it not been published, 18 of his plays would have been lost, including "Macbeth", "Julius Caesar", "Twelfth Night", "The Tempest", and "As You Like It", the Folger explains.

The Folger holds 82 First Folios, about a third of those still in existence, and by far the largest collection in the world.

The exhibit, curated by Folger's head of reference, Dr. Georgianna Ziegler, is divided into "Depicting Shakespeare" (and his characters); "Printing Shakespeare"; "Fixating on Shakespeare" (therein lies the forgery); and "Performing Shakespeare".

Speaking of performing Shakespeare, this production of "Richard III" is the Folger Theatre's first-ever in-the-round production. Its Elizabethan Theatre has been reconfigured so that the stage is, well, center stage, and seats surround it on all four sides.

Drew Cortese, who plays King Richard III, says that with this configuration, "the story can literally reach out and touch you at any moment."

Director Robert Richmond explains that the in-the-round setting will make the play "intimate, personal, up close, and perhaps sometimes in your face."

Here's a time-lapse video, with more comments by Richmond, who directed "Twelfth Night" and "Henry V" at the Folger in 2013, and by Cortese, who has appeared recently at Washington's Studio Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre.

Associated programs include "Finding Richard", a discussion Feb. 5 about finding the remains of King Richard III beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England in Sept. 2012.

The archaeological dig and verification of the royal remains through DNA research will be discussed by geneticist Turi King and fieldwork director Mathew Morris, both part of the Greyfriars Project. Richard III was only 32 when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth almost 530 years ago in 1485.

The annual Shakespeare Birthday Lecture, April 3, will be "Shakespeare, Biography, and Anti-Biography" by Brian Cummings. In this free lecture, University of York professor Cummings will discuss "the problem of writing the life of Shakespeare in terms of the documentary history and its haunting sense of missing links."

Cummings' latest book is "Mortal Thoughts: Religion, Secularity and Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture" (Oxford University Press, Nov. 2013).

The annual free Shakespeare Birthday Open House will be April 6, with jugglers, court jesters, song and dance, Elizabethan crafts, cake -- and the one day that the Folger reading rooms are open to all. (The birthday is accepted as April 23.)

You can even take the stage for "Spontaneous Shakespeare", and perform your fave line, hosted by Folger's own Mistress of the Revels. But pray you, do observe Hamlet's speech to the players, and don't tear a passion to tatters.

At the Folger Theatre April 17-May 25, "Two Gentlemen of Verona" will be performed by New York's Fiasco Theater. Fiasco has earned raves for its inventive productions of Shakespeare’s most whimsical plays. "New York Times" reviewer Ben Brantley wrote that Fiasco's "version of 'Cymbeline' is the clearest and most truly enchanting that I've seen."

On May 12, James Shapiro will discuss "Shakespeare in America", followed by a reception and viewing of the exhibition. The Columbia University professor's newest of many books regarding the bard is "Shakespeare in America: Anthology from the Revolution to Now" (Library of America, May 2014).

"The history of Shakespeare in America is also the history of America itself," Shapiro writes in his introduction. For example, Shapiro notes that "Othello" was a focal point of debates on race in America. And "Macbeth" indirectly sparked New York's Astor Place Riots, which left some 22 people dead and 100 injured in 1849.

In 2014, "To give him annual tribute, do him homage," as Shakespeare wrote in "The Tempest".

For more info: Folger Shakespeare Library, www.folger.edu, 201 East Capitol Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. 202-544-4600; Box Office 202-544-7077. "Shakespeare’s the Thing", Jan. 28-June 15. "Richard III", Jan. 28-March 9. The Folger, on Capitol Hill, is a gift to America from Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger. (In England, shakespeares-england.co.uk/shakespeare-2014, and specifically at Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare Birthday Trust, shakespeare.org.uk/home.html.)

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