Four centuries of staging Shakespeare
In order to make Shakespeare’s plays accessible and appealing to audiences, theater practitioners around the world have shaped both the text and the style of production to mirror and speak into their own time and place.
People have used Shakespeare’s plays as a medium for political commentary, incorporated them into other theatrical traditions, and adapted them as films, operas, musicals and other art forms.
Explore the variety of Shakespeare in performance.
Edwin Booth as Richard III
This costume was worn by 19th-century actor Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, for his role as Richard III.
Paul Robeson as Othello
Paul Robeson’s 1943 appearance as Othello had the longest run to that time of any Shakespearean production on Broadway.
Fanny Kemble costume design
This costume design was for popular early 19th-century British actress Fanny Kemble’s role as Desdemona in Othello.
Souvenirs of David Garrick
These images document Shakespearean star David Garrick’s 1753 performance of Romeo and Juliet, from the Folger’s extensive Garrick collection.
From the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast
Black Women Shakespeareans, 1821 – 1960, with Joyce Green MacDonald
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 183 Between 1821 and 1960, it would have been vanishingly rare to see a Black woman onstage performing Shakespeare. In Dr. Joyce Green MacDonald’s chapter in the new Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Race, “Actresses of Color…
The Restoration Reinvention of Shakespeare
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 171 The next time someone complains about a director changing or tampering with Shakespeare… we’ve got an answer for them. The first generation of theater artists after Shakespeare weren’t particularly concerned about performing Shakespeare’s plays the way…
Shakespeare in the Harlem Renaissance
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 161 When you think about the Harlem Renaissance, theater might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But, says Dr. Freda Scott Giles, theater played a significant role in the blossoming of Black American arts and…
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 152 Charlotte Cushman was one of the most famous American theater artists of the mid-19th century. And while she was known for her Lady Macbeth and Oliver Twist’s Nancy, she was acclaimed for her performances as Romeo…
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 29 If you were to make a list of the people who have left an enduring imprint on how the world interprets, understands, and receives Shakespeare, who would you choose? About a decade ago, Peter Holland, the…
Staging Shakespeare today:
Our interviews with actors
From the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast
Ian McKellen on Playing Hamlet
Sir Ian McKellen played Hamlet in his thirties, and again in his eighties. He gives us his take on the Melancholy Dane.
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 121 The great Glenda Jackson is back on the stage. In 1992, the Emmy and two-time Academy Award winner was elected to Parliament. She spent the next 23 years in Britain’s House of Commons. Since returning to…
Paterson Joseph: Julius Caesar and Me
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 98 In 2012 the Royal Shakespeare Company staged the first-ever, high-profile, all-black British Shakespeare production, Julius Caesar, set in Africa. The actor who played Brutus, Paterson Joseph, recently wrote a book about the experience called Julius Caesar…
Our Shakespeare theater partnership program:
What’s onstage across America
What's onstage at Shakespeare theaters this spring
Read our round-up of performances at Shakespeare theaters across the United States this April, May, and June.
We know you think Julius Caesar is boring
We ask theater artists across the country to tell us why it isn’t.
What's onstage at Shakespeare theaters in December
This month, Shakespeare theaters across the country are getting ready for the holidays with stories of Scrooge-i-ness defeated. Even Malvolio learns a lesson!
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Film, opera, musicals, and other adaptations
David West Read on & Juliet
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Ian McKellen on Richard III, Macbeth, and Gandalf
Sir Ian McKellen tells us about some of his most famous roles: playing Macbeth opposite Dame Judi Dench, King Richard III with a screenplay he co-wrote, and Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings films.
Adapting Shakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra' for opera
John Adams Gives Antony and Cleopatra the Operatic Treatment
Adams talks with host Barbara Bogaev about how he turned a five-act play into a two-act opera—which scenes got the hook, new lines written in the style of the Bard, and what Shakespeare may have thought of the play’s characters.
Q&A: Allan Clayton on playing Hamlet in Brett Dean's opera
Brett Dean and Matthew Jocelyn on Their Hamlet Opera
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 191 A new opera version of Hamlet is onstage at New York’s Metropolitan Opera through June 9. Composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn talk with host Barbara Bogaev about adapting the texts of the earliest editions…
Pamela Hutchinson on Asta Nielsen's Hamlet
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 188 In 1921, Asta Nielsen, one of the world’s biggest movie stars, had just formed her own production company, and decided to open it up by playing Hamlet. Plenty of women had done that on the stage…
Read a play aloud with friends
Gather some friends to read aloud a Shakespeare play together. Does the character list look too long? To assign roles, use these scene-by-scene breakdowns of 13 popular plays that show which actors should play which characters.