Shakespeare wrote the words, but through the centuries it is the actors — from Richard Burbage in the 17th century to today's Benedict Cumberbatch — who have brought his plays to life.
The National Library of Scotland is marking the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare by paying tribute to many of the great actors who have taken on some of theatre's most challenging and sought-after roles.
The display, which opens today (17 March), uses material from the Library's collections to feature some 30 actors in what is a concise history of Shakespeare in performance.
It includes actors from Shakespeare's own time right up to the present day and features famous performers such as Edmund Kean, Ellen Terry, Lillie Langtry, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Judi Dench and David Tennant.
'Playing Shakespeare: 400 years of great acting' draws upon the National Library's extensive early editions of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, theatrical playbills and engravings from the 18th and 19th century, illustrated theatre magazines, film, a map, posters, programmes and souvenirs of major companies, such as the Old Vic, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the National Theatre.
It includes many original and some unusual items including:
- A recreation of a toy theatre version of Laurence Olivier's film 'Hamlet' in 1948
- An original letter from Vivien Leigh writing about her 1951 performance as Cleopatra
- Film of Richard Burton attending the 1953 Edinburgh International Festival to play Hamlet.
The Library's Curator for Literature and the Arts, Andrew Martin, who devised the display, said: 'As all of us who studied Shakespeare at school know, reading a play in class is not the same as seeing a play on stage, and there's no doubt that however brilliant and magical are Shakespeare's words, it is the actors who have brought that brilliance and magic to life for generations of play-goers.'
He added: 'With the space available we could not do justice to all the great names who have played Shakespearian roles but we hope it tells an interesting story of 400 years of performance.'
'Playing Shakespeare: 400 years of great acting' is on at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh until 12 June.
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17 March 2016