Ol’ Time-y Hamlet Posters

Love love LOVE  the Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection… where else can you find ol’ Time-y (nineteenth century) Hamlet Posters!

The earliest example of a playbill is this one from the Charleston Theatre in 1805 (huh, who knew smo(a)king wasn’t allowed).

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Charleston Theatre Playbill
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Charleston Theatre, December 20, 1805

 

This one from 1821 is for William Macready at the Theatre Royal, Covent-Garden in London. Macready was the preeminent Shakespearean actor in England of the early 19th century. His first tours of the US (in the early 1840’s) were a rousing success.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: The Last Time of acting before the Holidays Mr. Macready's Night. Theatre Royal, Covent-Garden. This present Friday, June 8, 1821 will be acted Shakspeare's Tragedy of Hamlet
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: William Macready. Theatre Royal, Covent-Garden, London, England. June 8, 1821.

 

This engraving is of Edwin Forrest, the leading American actor of the early 19th century. He and Macready (above) began a feud in the mid-1840’s that became quite vicious…

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Mr. Edwin Forrest as Hamlet drawn by H. Ulke ; engraved by J.C. Buttre.
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Mr. Edwin Forrest as Hamlet drawn by H. Ulke ; engraved by J.C. Buttre.

 

So vicious, in fact, that during Macready’s last tour of the US in 1849, supporters of Forrest used immigrant/nativist tensions to spark the Astor Place Riots of May 10, 1849, that killed over two dozen and injured over a hundred. The story is fascinating and is well explored in Nigel Cliff’s The Shakespeare Riots.

Working men, shall Americans or English rule! in this city? New York, 1849 American Committee. 1849 May 09
This broadside on May 9, 1849, incited the Astor Place Riot, which had its origins in a rivalry between American actor Edwin Forrest and British actor William Charles Macready and their supporters. The actors were each starring in competing productions of Macbeth, Forrest in the working class Bowery Theatre, and Macready in the upper class Astor Place Opera House.

 

The next few playbills are for Edwin Booth, the greatest American Shakespearean actor of the second half of the 19th century.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Edwin Booth at Winter Garden Theater, New York. 100th Night of Hamlet, 1865
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Edwin Booth at Winter Garden Theater, New York. 100th Night of Hamlet, 1865

 

Not satisfied with being an actor, Booth also became a theatrical entrepreneur, building his own theater, modestly (not) named Booth’s Theatre in New York.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: New York, Booth's Theatre. Edwin Booth in Hamlet. Playbill, 3 February 1870
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Edwin Booth in Hamlet at Booth’s Theatre, New York. February 3, 1870.

 

Though the preeminent American actor of the late 19th century, he is mostly remembered now as the brother of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Providence Opera House, Providence, Rhode Island. Hamlet. Playbill, 20 November 1872
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Edwin Booth as Hamlet at Providence Opera House, Providence, Rhode Island, on November 20, 1872.

 

This last graphic is of Sarah Bernhardt, “the Divine Sarah” who was a late 19th century French actress, who performed the lead in Hamlet at the end of the century. In fact, it was she who starred in the first cinema adaptation of the play, a five-minute pseudo-silent film of the fencing scene.

Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection: Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet

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