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In the Library: Will’s World—European Literature in Shakespeare’s time

Past Exhibition

November 27 – December 29, 2023
East Building, Ground Level—Library

Weekdays, 11:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

In conjunction with the Shakespeare Everywhere festival, the National Gallery of Art Library presents Will’s World: European Literature in Shakespeare’s Time, an exhibition of selected old and rare books from our special collections. Join us for a close look at different texts, including both classical and modern literary sources, that inspired playwrights like Shakespeare. 

During the Renaissance, English theater—like many aspects of European culture at the the time—was influenced by the revival of ancient Greek and Roman ideas. Roman plays, histories, and literature all survived the Middle Ages as manuscripts, and the newly invented movable-type printing press allowed these works to be widely distributed in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. 

Books originally written in Latin or Greek were gradually translated into everyday languages like English, inspiring a new generation of writers, including Shakespeare. Elements of plots and characters that he used in his scripts may be found in a variety of both ancient and modern sources, which also likely influenced his famous use of metaphor and wordplay. This exhibition shares the books that helped to shape the Bard’s imagination.

Explore Selected Works

Dive Deeper

Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Admission is always free and passes are not required

Banner detail: Ernest Philip Alphonse Law (author), Benoit Arlaud (illustrator), Gaspard Duchange (engraver), The History of Hampton Court Palace (London, 1888). National Gallery of Art Library, Grega and Leo A. Daly III Fund for Architectural Books