Henry Clay Folger was an American oil tycoon and collector of Shakespeareana. In 1930, near the end of his life, he laid the cornerstone of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Located on Capitol Hill, the Library housed Folger’s collection of first folio editions, which was the largest in the world, along with various manuscripts and books from Shakespeare’s lifetime. Endowed with Folger’s fortune, the mission of the Library was to enlarge Folger’s collection and foster the tycoon’s love for all things Shakespearian.
Until it became an instrument of Social Justice.
I noted this in earlier posts on theatrical performances at the Library in which Black actresses were cast as Cleopatra and Joan of Arc, and note it again because of a testimonial the Library Director sent out this morning (below). We are, he says, “in the midst of a reckoning around racial injustice and the long history of violence against people of color,” and the sum of this tally will decide “who we are as people” and “what the Folger is as a public institution.”
Observe the omission of the article in that first phrase. This is not simply a reckoning that will decide what Americans are as a people, but is rather a reckoning that could save (or damn) mankind. If you read the second paragraph of the Director’s message closely, you will see that Floyd is for him a Christ who has died for our sins and whose death can set us free.
Henry Clay Folger established his Library to draw attention to the works of William Shakespeare, but the Library now exists to draw attention to “the problem of violence against people of color,” and to undo “that legacy of hurt, racial injustice, and pain.” It has therefore, obviously, undergone the form of mission creep that we call “convergence.” Every institution feels the gravitational pull of more prestigious institutions, and in the absence of active restraints will therefore more and more assume the mission and character of the prestigious institutions. Thus teaching colleges naturally “creep” in the direction of research universities and soft sciences and non-sciences naturally “creep” in the direction of natural science (so-called “physics envy). Liberal churches “creep” in the direction of sociology departments and just about every institution nowadays creeps in the direction of Social Justice.
I propose to call these last institutions the Creeps.
We can see that the Folger Shakespeare Library is a Creep when the Director tells us that it “is in the process of becoming an even more public institution, which means telling the stories of all people in a setting of abundant welcome.” I do wonder what old Henry Clay Folger would think of that. Not, you will note, using its “collections, programs and research” to tell the story of William Shakespeare and his times, but rather using these resources to “push back on the legacy of racism that led to this latest crisis.”
As I said, this mission creep tells us that George Floyd is now a bigger star than William Shakespeare in the mind of the Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
What a Creep!