(Editor’s note: This post was written by guest contributor, Vito Scocozzo ’19)
Are you a fan of Shakespeare? Do you like theatre? Are you struggling to find more sources for a research paper? Look no further than one of the newest additions to the Lehigh University Libraries Databases, Shakespeare in Performance!
Shakespeare in Performance is a database specializing in the production and performance of Shakespeare’s plays. It is maintained by the Folger Shakespeare Library, home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare-related materials, located in Washington, DC. The database focuses primarily on the collection and preservation of prompt books. “The prompt book is the production’s bible, containing a wealth of instructions and information alongside the basic text of the play. As well as the actors’ lines, you will often see cues for music, movement, light, and many other aspects of stage business. Cuts and annotations are sometimes scribbled beside or on top of the text or in the margins. You will even occasionally see doodles or sketches of how a piece of staging is supposed to look, or which costume a character should wear in a scene. Some prompt books are extremely detailed, while others have hardly any notes at all.” (http://www.shakespeareinperformance.amdigital.co.uk/Introduction/PromptBook) “They are often our only surviving source for learning how a particular production was staged, with details about cuts, additions, rearrangements, and stage directions, and sometimes details about lighting, music, props, and costumes as well.” (http://www.shakespeareinperformance.amdigital.co.uk/Introduction/NatureAndScope)
In addition to prompt books, the database also contains other related information such as production sketches, scenery illustrations, director and actor biographies, timelines of specific theatres and shows, and so much more. It is incredibly easy to navigate. Everything is very clearly labeled and organized, with an abundance of specific search options to make finding exactly what you are looking for that much easier! Whether you are an English, Theatre, or Art, Architecture & Design major or simply just a fan of Shakespeare, you are more than likely to find something new and exciting in this database.
To give you an idea of the kind of research this database would help with, I did some research of my own. Perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays, Hamlet, contains a rather famous soliloquy that has been performed countless times around the world. (Yes, I’m talking about the “To be, or not to be” one…) Inspired by a comedy skit from Shakespeare Live!, a 2016 celebration of the bard, I decided to find as many notes in prompt books as I possibly could to see how this speech has evolved since its origin. Imagine my surprise when I found almost no notes! The iconic scene seemed to have been left untouched, an island of unmarked paper in a sea of scribbled notes to actors and producers. I continued on with my research, this time researching my favorite Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In my research for this play, I learned many things. I learned that the play, written in five acts, was usually performed as a shortened two or three act play. I also learned, much to my disappointment, that my favorite scene was almost always cut from the performance. All of this information was gathered using only the Shakespeare in Performance database, and it only took about an hour. The ease of use makes research a breeze, and the beautiful illustrations from various performances also make the database a nice thing to look at too – just don’t get too distracted like I did!
Next time you need to write a paper about Shakespeare or theatre, keep this new resource in mind. I promise you that you will not be disappointed.