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Shakespeare & Beyond

The game's the thing

Shakespeare games
Shakespeare games

In doing research at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’ve come across a variety of games in the library’s Shakespeare collection. For me these board games, card games, and book games herald a form of collaborative and participatory Shakespeare-making that we see today in Shakespeare-themed video games, choose-your-own-adventure books, and immersive, interactive theatre productions. In this sense the games constitute an early history of ‘prosuming‘, a concept developed by Alvin Toffler in the 1970s to refer to ‘production by consumers’. In the world of creativity and culture, the term ‘prosumer’ is often linked to instances in which audiences become creative practitioners themselves, helping produce the artistic world of a theatre production, video game, art installation, etc. by playing an active part in it.

Most of the games in the Folger collection are from the nineteenth century, some with very beautiful illustrations, although a couple come from the more recent past. There are versions of familiar games like Checkers, Memory, and Go Fish, which use Shakespeare not as a crucial part of the game mechanism but rather as thematic/decorative content. So, for instance, you get a typical checker board from 1864 (Shakespeare’s 300th birthday!) that you play exactly as you would a normal one, but you also get to look at Shakespeare quotes and trivia as you do so. Ditto for the 19th-century. ‘Shakespeare Game of Concentration’ that you play like Memory. This seems like a Shakespeare-by-osmosis approach to me: you’re playing a familiar game that doesn’t rely on Shakespeare knowledge or appreciation in and of itself, but by using Shakespeare quotes and images as filler it tries to instill that knowledge in the process.


These sound fun but like you pointed out they are regular games with a Shakespeare theme pinned on it (like the Checkers game) or a Trivia game. The last two are definitely the most interesting but still not much in the way of games. Is the Library collecting more recent games? You pointed out the 2003 game so I wonder if the more recent “Shakespeare” game from 2015 ( where you compete to collect needed items to put on a play or the older “Shakespeare: The Bard Game” from 2005 ( are in the collection? There is a great and weird little game I found in a discount bin at a game store called “Hamlet!” ( which is a weird abstract game where people compete to alter the story of Hamlet to meet a specific ending requirement (where some characters live to the end, or die earlier, etc.). There are a lot of games inspired by The Bard, that’s for sure. A lot more are coming out, too. I am curious if the Folger will be attempting to collect them all! Thanks for sharing the art from these old games!

Philip Florian — March 25, 2017