Shakespeare Library and Archive

On Friday, July 17, our class took a coach bus to Stratford Upon Avon to visit the William Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive ( This collection was first established in the 1800's in conjunction with the public records office. In 1964, the building and the official mission to mold a library that would encompass William Shakespeare's life, work, and sources, was created. This library surprised me with its scope, although its focus is Shakespeare, it contains materials that Shakespeare might have referenced for his work including public records that illustrate the city happenings during his lifetime and the various interpretations of his work, from then until now.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has a performance and image database that can be accessed through this library. The public records aspect is a great resource for people who are trying to trace their family geneaology. This library is not publicly funded, its function is dependent on charity monies and donations from individuals. Although everyone is welcome to visit the library, some of the extremely old documents are off limits to most people unless they have proof that the access is neccessary for faculty approved research. Even with special access, no patrons may remove materials from the library, it is for reference only.

The library has 12 staff members, only 5 of them are full time, and it boasts about 50,000 books in its collection. The librarians are very passionate about what they do, and they make a point to share the treasures of their colelction with theatre students, school children and the general public as often as they can, with respect for the delicate nature of some materials.

One special piece of this collection is one of Shakespeare's first folios, which was printed in 1623, seven years after he died. There are only 230 of these still in existence of the 750 that were initially printed. The library also houses 250,000-350,000 photographs of sets, costumes, and actors. As we were touring the vault, we noticed some black and white still shots of Helen Mirren portraying Cleopatra in one of the RSC productions. Here is another image of Mirren in this role

( The environment in the Shakespeare Library is very attuned to the pursposes of any given patron, one picture especially caught my attention. There is a painting of William Shakespeare between the muses, who are appropriately adorned and named, comedy and tragedy.

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