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World-renowned collection of Shakespeare material published online

August 25, 2016

Marlborough. The world’s largest collection of prompt books from the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C., is now available online, providing theatre, literature and popular culture researchers unprecedented access to this unique collection in a digital format.

Shakespeare in Performance offers the Library’s entire collection of Shakespeare ‘prompt books’ – annotated copies of plays – telling the story of Shakespeare’s plays as they were performed in theatres throughout Great Britain, the United States and internationally between 1670 and 1970.

Prompt books that were once owned by famous actors and directors, including Charles and John Philip Kemble, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Laurence Olivier have been digitised for exploration. Others are extremely rare and old; in particular the 1670s Smock Alley prompt books from the Theatre Royal in Dublin. This remarkable array of material will transform understanding of how Shakespeare’s plays have been interpreted and performed over the years.

“The Folger's prompt book collection is deep and unique, drawing from three centuries of Shakespeare performances. Making this collection accessible will further the Folger's goal of getting as many digital resources into scholars' hands as possible.” - Eric Johnson, Director of Digital Access at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Seventeen performances of particular cultural importance have been selected as case studies, including David Garrick’s revised 1772 production of Hamlet, Henry Irving’s famous 1879 production of The Merchant of Venice and Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning cinema release of Hamlet, each supported by photographs, costume designs and music scores to illustrate key aspects of each production.

An interactive highlight includes the facility to view prompt books alongside one another to easily compare the difference between two copies of the same play. Users can navigate simultaneously to a specific act or scene allowing for dynamic and comparative research.

Senior Publisher at Adam Matthew, Martin Drewe, explained: “We’re absolutely delighted to be able to meet the academic demand for online access to this extensive range of important material from the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library”.

Shakespeare in Performance is available now:
A free webinar on the resource will take place on September 14th 2016 - register here.


Adam Matthew, an imprint of SAGE Publishing, is an award winning publisher of digital primary source collections for the humanities and social sciences. Sourced from leading libraries and archives around the world, their unique research and teaching collections cover a wide range of subject areas from medieval family life to 20th century history, literature and culture.


The Folger Shakespeare Library is home to the world’s largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials and to major collections of other rare Renaissance books, manuscripts and works of art, serving a wide audience of researchers, visitors, teachers, students, families, theatre- and concert-goers. The Folger is also a world-renowned research center on Shakespeare and on the early modern age in the West.

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