VIDEO: Tour The Fascinating Artifacts of The British Library's 'Shakespeare In Ten Acts'

It might be hard to imagine a young man being the first to play Lady Macbeth or Cleopatra, but, as it's well-known, women were forbidden from the stage in Elizabethan times and female roles were played by boys and young men.

But times change and so does the way audiences see The Bard's work. 2016 marks the 400th Anniversary of William Shakespeare's death and among the countless festivals, exhibitions and performances worldwide marking the occasion is The British Library's "Shakespeare In Ten Acts," a gallery show that demonstrates how Shakespeare's plays have been transformed for new generations of theatre-goers.

One such example, as reported by The Guardian, is a 1660 prologue, written by actor and poet Thomas Jordan, warning the audience that a woman would appear on stage that night as Desdemona in OTHELLO.

Originally spoken to an audience at the Vere Street Theatre in Lincoln's Inn, the prologue reads, in part:

"I come unknown to any of the rest,

to tell you news, I saw the Lady dress't,

the woman playes to day, mistake me not,

No man in Gown, or Page in Petty-Coat,

A woman to my knowledge, yet I cann't

(If I should dye) make affidavit on't."

As explained in the video below by lead curator Zoe Wilcox, "Shakespeare In Ten Acts" inspires viewers to imagine how audiences reacted to ground-breaking moments like the first stage appearance by a female actor and the first British performance of Othello by a black actor in 1825.

Among the 200 unique and rare items are the only surviving literary manuscript in Shakespeare's hand, the earliest printed edition of HAMLET from 1603, Vivien Leigh's glamorous Lady Macbeth costume, the surprising circus prop from Peter Brook's 1970s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and the award-winning costumes from TWELFTH NIGHT starring Mark Rylance, as performed at Shakespeare's Globe.


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From This Author Michael Dale