The Comedy Of Errors

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 The Comedy of Errors comes from a copy of the First Folio which supplied a London theatre, the 'Nursery', with some of its Shakespeare playtexts in the 1660s and 1670s. It shows cuts and other indications for performance, such as diagonal crossed lines to indicate an actor's entrance. It also includes prompter's calls specifying the names of Nursery actors. Also legible are annotations prompting the musical interludes staged between the Acts of the play.


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Further Study

This copy is held at the University of Edinburgh Library, shelfmark JY 438. 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).