Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright

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© Victoria and Albert Museum

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, 1899

© Victoria and Albert Museum

Boots worn by Henry Irving in Richard III, 1877

© Victoria and Albert Museum

William Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1923

(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Set design for Richard III by Philippe James de Loutherberg, 1772

© Victoria and Albert Museum

Headdress worn by Vivien Leigh in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Old Vic. Designed by Oliver Messel, 1937

© Victoria and Albert Museum/ Desmond Banks

Promotional poster for Hamlet by the Beggarstaff Brothers, 1894


To mark of the 450th anniversary on April 23 2014 of William Shakespeare’s birth,  this display in the V&A’s Theatre galleries explores Shakespeare’s works as the inspiration for a multitude of theatrical interpretations over the centuries and across the globe.

The show’s centrepiece is Shakespeare’s First Folio. Published in 1623, this collected edition of 36 plays contains the first known versions of many of Shakespeare’s works, including ‘Macbeth’, ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Twelfth Night’. Along with archive footage, photography and objects from the V&A collection explore the many ways in which the plays have been interpreted and re-imagined. Among the props, costumes, set models and design sketches on show are a pair of red boots worn by actor-manager Henry Irving in a 1877 production of Richard III. The boots were made with a stacked right heel to help Irving recreate the character’s distinctive limp.

A specially commissioned audio-visual installation projected across multiple screens features interviews with actors, directors and designers. A programme of activities and events celebrating Shakespeare and examining the enduring influence his works have had accompanies the show.

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