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 is taken from a first folio of 1623, and was probably marked up in the 1660s or 1670s. While it can be persuasively associated with the London Nursery theatre, it is not actually a fully-fledged promptbook. The text has been cut to bring it down to a performable length, but no indications of cast, cues or stage action are evident. Interestingly, the play has been cut so as to minimise the role of Titania, the Fairy Queen, and consequently much of the comic business surrounding Bottom the weaver which is central to most modern productions.


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Further Study

This copy is held at the University of Edinburgh Library, shelfmark JY 439. 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).