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Shakespeare & Beyond

Early Shakespeare films: scripts, stars, and souvenirs

Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier

Over the course of my first months as Eric Weinmann Librarian at the Folger, an important date has been looming: Acquisitions Night. I am looking forward to sharing this experience with our staff and visitors and seeing the ways in which people personally identify with particular items. One of the areas I have been involved with in my previous position at the University of Iowa is early film collections, and it is therefore particularly exciting to see how many items related to Shakespeare and film will be included in Acquisitions Night this year. —Greg Prickman

These recent additions to the Folger Shakespeare Library collection relate to a range of early Shakespeare films that represented important firsts, won awards, and witnessed the transition from silent films to “talkies.”

A Silent Film of Hamlet

This program advertises a silent film production of Hamlet starring Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson and Gertrude Elliott, who worked together and married in 1900. The film was one of the first feature films ever made in Britain. Forbes-Robertson was widely considered “the finest Hamlet of his time,” although he disliked acting and only did so to support himself. This Hamlet was based on a stage version performed at the Drury Lane theater in 1913, according to the British Film Institute, which has preserved the film.


Three of my grandparents started in Silents, and one grandfather, Wilfred Lucas played MacDuff to Sir Herbert Beerbohn Tree’s MacBeth. Constance Collier played Lady M. Alas, it is feared the film is lost, but who knows. Stranger things have been found in people’s attics. The rest of the family followed in his profession. Thanks.

Liz MacGillicuddy Lucas — March 6, 2019

Love Shakespeare

Herbert Gould — April 19, 2019