Hamlet

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 Hamlet is from the third folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, published in 1663. It is the earliest surviving prompt copy of the play, and shows extensive evidence of use for a production between 1676 and 1679 staged at the Smock alley Theatre in Dublin. The copy of the third folio containing this play was only broken up in the 19th century, by Halliwell-Phillipps, which is why the last page of a Macbeth promptbook is the first page in this volume. The rest of the Macbeth is now in the Folger Shakespeare Library.

 

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Further Study

This copy is held at the University of Edinburgh Library, shelfmark JY 442. 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).