'Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare in Scottish collections'

Exhibition highlighting Shakespearean treasures and exploring what Shakespeare has meant in Scotland across the centuries. Ran from 9 December 2011 to 29 April 2012.


'Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare in Scottish collections' tells the stories behind Edinburgh's two world-class Shakespeare collections.

The exhibition explores the lives of a small group who helped bring together these collections of William Shakespeare's plays and other works about the playwright.

Their lives and activities also reveal something of the changing response to Shakespeare in Scotland over the centuries.

Iconic material on show

Built up over 400 years, the collections at the National Library of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh Library contain iconic Shakespearean material.

Detail from quarto of 'Henry IV part 2'
Quarto of 'Henry IV,
part 2'.

On display from these collections you will see items such as:

  • Some of the earliest published versions of the plays — in a format called 'quarto' — including:
    • 'Romeo and Juliet' (1599)
    • 'Love's labour's lost' (1598)
    • An exceptionally rare copy of the second quarto of 'Titus Andronicus' (1600)
    • The mysterious collection of 'Pavier quartos' printed in 1619.
  • The first Jacobean edition of 'Richard II' (1608), complete with the abdication scene, which could not be published during the reign of Elizabeth I
  • A copy of the First Folio — the first collected edition of Shakespeare plays, published in 1623, seven years after the writer's death.

The people behind the collections

The exhibition focuses on three figures and one family whose enthusiasm for England's Bard led them to collect his plays and to share their discoveries about them.

  • William Drummond, a Scottish poet who lived at the same time as William Shakespeare. He owned copies of several of his plays, which are in the collection at the University of Edinburgh. Read more about William Drummond.
  • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Bute family, aristocrats, cultural patrons and collectors. They who built a notable library of Shakespeare's works in the 18th century. Read more about Lady Mary and the Bute family.
  • James Halliwell-Phillipps, a celebrated 19th-century Shakespeare scholar who wrote a pioneering biography of the playwright. Material he donated to the University of Edinburgh includes his Shakespeare collections. Read more about James Halliwell-Phillipps.
  • John Dover Wilson, noted in particular for his edition of Shakespeare's works and his methods of determining reliable versions of the plays' texts. He also advised some of Britain's finest Shakespearean actors of the 20th century, including Laurence Olivier and Michael Redgrave. Read more about John Dover Wilson.

Be creative while you visit

An image of 'Titania'
Design a costume
for Titania.

During a visit to the exhibition you can:

  • Write your own sonnet, with a little help from Shakespeare
  • Use word magnets to create a Shakespeare-inspired poem, dialogue or insult
  • Design a costume for a Shakespeare character
  • Send an email postcard with a Shakespeare quote.

Shakespeare 'vox pop'

You can also watch two short films shot on the streets of Edinburgh in the summer.

Find out what members of the public think of Shakespeare and what for each of them is the most memorable line from his plays.

Read books inspired by Shakespeare

We have a small selection of modern books inspired by Shakespeare for you to enjoy in the reading corner. Titles include:

  • 'Something rotten', by Jasper Fforde
  • 'A thousand acres', by Jane Smiley
  • 'Will', by Christopher Rush
  • 'The Klingon Hamlet' (Pocket Book Star Trek series)
  • 'Indigo', by Marina Warner.

Related events at the Library

Our winter programme features several events that are Shakespeare related. See the events page for details and to book online.



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'Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare in Scottish collections'

9 December 2011 to 29 April 2012


A National Library of Scotland exhibition in association with the University of Edinburgh.

Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.



Past exhibitions page


Exhibitions page


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