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Shakespeare's legacy preserved at D.C. library

When you think of the great sights of Washington, D.C., you think of the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial. You don't often think of Shakespeare.

But the Folger Shakespeare Library building isn't just a theater; it's a treasure trove that's brought the man known as the Bard of Avon into the homes of millions of people, CBS News' Julianna Goldman reports.

"In a way, he's part of our DNA as speakers of English," said Michael Witmore, the library's director. "So many of the things that we think of as smart or beautiful things to say in English are things that Shakespeare taught English users to do."

Copies of "The First Folio" in the Folger Shakespeare Library vault
Copies of "The First Folio" in the Folger Shakespeare Library vault

"Forever and a day," "I'll not budge an inch," "What's done is done" - all lines from Shakespeare plays that we know today, in large part because of a book published nearly 400 years ago titled "The First Folio."

Copies are so rare and valuable that the Folger keeps them two stories below ground in "the vault," an ultra-secure, climate-controlled room restricted to employees only.

Witmore said "The First Folio," which was published in 1623, is "probably the most studied book ever printed in English and easily one of the most influential."

Without "The First Folio," plays like "Julius Caesar" and "Macbeth" would have been lost to history. The Folger holds 82, the most in the world. One sold at auction in 2001 for more than $6 million.

The library also houses some of the English Renaissance's greatest artifacts, like Henry VIII's copy of "Cicero" that he had as a boy.

"Here he's written, 'This book is mine. Prince Henry,'" Witmore said.

There's also a velvet-covered Bible that belonged to Queen Elizabeth I.

"This is a Bible that is fit for a monarch," Witmore said. "Fit for a queen."

And Walt Whitman's book of Shakespeare poems that he kept in his pocket.

"What is so beautiful about this book is that Whitman signed it," Witmore said.

As "good luck would have it," we have Henry and Emily Folger to thank for the collection.

Henry Folger made his fortune working for Standard Oil in the early 1900s. They spent their days and nights collecting Shakespeare.

Stephen Grant wrote their biography. He says as far as the Folgers' interest in Shakespeare goes, "obsessed is a good word."

Today, their ashes are buried in the Folger, some 130 years after they first met in a reading club.

"Henry and Emily loved each other. They both loved Shakespeare. And I look at this as the greatest ménage a trois in Anglo-American literary history," Grant said.

For those wondering why the library ended up in Washington, one reason was money.

It was less expensive to buy land in D.C. compared to New York.

The price of a "First Folio" has gone up considerably over the years. In 1903, Henry Folger paid $48,000, so "all's well that ends well."

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