Within the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the world’s leading museum of art and design, there lies an extraordinary wealth of material relating to a single individual: the playwright William Shakespeare.
This book presents a fascinating selection of one hundred objects – often surprising, always delightful – chosen by the museum’s curators for the insight each affords into the world of Shakespeare and his plays.
The objects are drawn from across the V&A’s rich and varied collections. There are paintings, sculptures, pieces of jewellery, engravings and figurines. There are posters and playbills, costume designs, photographs, illustrations and film stills. Also included are original costumes worn by Henry Irving, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Rudolf Nureyev and Ian McKellen.
Amongst the more unexpected objects are a bed (the Great Bed of Ware, which Shakespeare mentions in Twelfth Night), a sword (presented to Edmund Kean after his performance as Macbeth) and a real human skull (Yorick to Jonathan Pryce’s Hamlet).
Some of the greatest Shakespearean performances and productions of all time are memorialised, including Sarah Bernhardt’s Hamlet, Ellen Terry’s Lady Macbeth, John Gielgud’s Lear, Olivier’s Richard III, Paul Robeson’s Othello, many of Henry Irving’s performances, David Garrick’s celebratory Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769 and Peter Brook’s iconic 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Each object is illustrated in full colour and is accompanied by a compact essay on its history, its provenance, and what it has to tell us about Shakespeare and his plays, particularly in performance.
The result is a book that not only underlines Shakespeare’s infinite variety, but also reveals his astonishing legacy in material things, a substantial pageant that has not faded.