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Shakespeare in Performance

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Prompt Books from the Folger Shakespeare Library

Research key performances of Shakespeare’s plays through the prompt books of the famous actors and directors who brought the Bard’s works to life.


Shakespeare in Performance is an essential resource for all scholars of Shakespearean drama, featuring rare and unique prompt books from the world-famous Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. The prompt books tell the stories of key performances as they were put on in theatres throughout Great Britain, the United States and further afield, between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. In a mixture of handwritten manuscripts and printed typescripts, often interspersed with personal notes, sketches, and cues for lighting and music, this resource takes users behind the scenes to shine a light on how the Bard’s timeless works have been interpreted by theatre companies, actors and directors across the centuries. Researchers can follow how each production unfolded, see what amendments were made to the lines and stage management over the years as audiences and social culture changed, and explore the influences and connections between different productions of the same play.

The resource also contains carefully curated case studies built around 17 selected performances, using important supporting material such as photographs, costume designs and music scores to highlight key aspects of each production.

Documents are indexed by genre, country, theatre, associated names, and other key search terms.

The prompt books themselves make up the majority of the material, supplemented by:

  • Souvenir copies

  • Ephemera

  • Illustrations and drawings

  • Photographs

  • Music scores

  • Correspondence