A Midsummer Night's Dream

Playbooks were originally published as texts to be read, not performed. Acting companies such as Shakespeare's kept manuscript copies of their plays, and would base performance texts on these. Individual actors had copies only of the part or parts they were playing, accompanied by the few words necessary to give them their cue each time they were due to speak. A complete manuscript of the playtext as performed, marked up with the details of production necessary to ensure the smooth running of the performance, would also be kept by the 'bookholder' or prompter. Such copies are called 'promptbooks'. Once a play had been published, a printed copy, marked up with cuts and details of performance such as cues, might become the basis for a production.

This copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream comes from a Shakespeare third folio, published in 1663. The folio was used by the Smock Alley theatre company in Dublin in the later 17th century, and shows cuts and scene settings but not other details of an actual performance. A later hand has introduced textual emendations made by 18th century editors. The copy of the third folio from which the play was taken was only broken up in the 19th century, by Halliwell-Phillipps. Other plays from the same copy are to be found in the Folger Shakespeare Library.

 

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Further Study

This copy is held at the University of Edinburgh Library, shelfmark JY 441. For more on Shakespearean promptbooks and the documents and processes of early modern performance see Charles H. Shattuck, The Shakespeare Promptbooks: A Descriptive Catalogue (Urbana, 1965) and Tiffany Stern, Documents of Performance (Oxford, 2009).