The Folger Teaching Manifesto

  1. Teachers do the most important work on earth. Period.


  1. Shakespeare has something to say to everybody.
  • Nearly half of his audience in the Globe Theatre in 1600 couldn’t read. And probably some audience members were new to the English language. They understood the play and had a great time!
  • His plays are a significant part of world culture. They speak powerfully to all of us, no matter our nationality or country of origin. He likes English language learners.
  • And he likes and speaks equally to special needs kids, “regular” non-honors kids, IB kids, AP kids, all kids.


  1. All students can and should dive into Shakespeare’s complex texts and compelling ideas. They can do this with great success, advancing their skills in the process. (And evidence of that rigor and those advanced skills show up on standardized tests scores.)
  • Fact: Shakespeare is taught in 93% of American schools.
  • Research: Teachers using the Folger approach report significant and beyond significant impact on their students’ close reading skills and reading comprehension.
  • Research: Teachers using the Folger approach also report significant and beyond significant impact on their students’ attendance, attentiveness in class, and willingness to collaborate.
  • Research: At the end of a Folger Shakespeare unit, students reported high levels of confidence and high levels of enthusiasm for “learning the next hard thing”: August Wilson, Lear, calculus, Arabic.


  1. Shakespeare’s language is the key.
  • Connecting students with his language actively and head on gets his words into their mouths, gets his ideas into their brains, while they are connecting to the power of their own brains. No teachers translating but rather kids speaking and moving and figuring out HIM—his words, lines, scenes, plays. Kids realize that they actually can understand what this guy is talking about. And can they ever.


  1. We teach teachers how to teach Shakespeare (and lots of other literature) really, really well. We work hard at it, with passion and practicality, because you and your students deserve that.
  • We are the largest Shakespeare collection in the world, and home to major collections of other rare Renaissance books, manuscripts, and works of art.
  • We're the center of Shakespeare scholarship, and the driver for teaching and learning his works.
  • For more than 30 years, we have worked with teachers: face-to-face at the Folger, in their schools, at NCTE, in online Master Classes and electronic field trips, and everywhere in between.
  • Together with teachers, we have a created a variety of cutting-edge resources, tested with real kids in real classrooms. Using those resources connects kids of all ability levels with Shakespeare and leads to student success, understanding, and skill-building.
  • We’re home to the Folger Editions of the plays, and, through, we have made free copies of all the plays available to anybody who’d like them or who needs them.
  • We work with a vibrant online teaching Shakespeare community of thousands of teachers across the country. Every teacher who works with us becomes part of this community. Welcome!

  1. Every good teacher can teach Shakespeare well and does not need the dumbed-down versions. And if you teach literature this Folger way, you’ll become a better teacher.
  • If you are teaching Shakespeare from those watered-down versions of the plays created by publishers who believe that neither teachers nor students are smart enough to understand the real thing, throw them out. Right now.
  • Working through a play with students is all about scaffolding, and using active tools and strategies in the spirit of mutual discovery. You start where Shakespeare started . . . with a word, then a line, then a couple of lines, a short speech, then a longer speech. You’re in and through the play!
  • And you don’t have to teach the whole play. We have no idea how they cut the plays in Shakespeare’s time, but we know they did. (No one then or now was dying to sit through a four-hour Hamlet. Really.)
  • Audiences and readers in 1597 understood and loved Romeo and Juliet, and they didn’t check any footnotes or dissect celestial imagery ever.
  • The teacher doesn’t have to “know everything” because no one “knows everything” about Shakespeare. We have no idea what any particular play “means” or “is about.” All kinds of people—scholars, teachers, editors, and more—have been puzzling about these things since Shakespeare wrote them. The very best thing is that students and teachers start puzzling together. Ongoing discussion of all of this is what keeps the Folger Library vital and busy, and it’s what will keep your classrooms vital and busy too.
  • It’s liberating to let the language work on you and your kids. Shakespeare knew how to write. You know how to teach. And if you’re worried about this last part, we can help you with that.


  1. Teachers do the most important work on earth. Period.