Promptbooks

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The Folger collection includes over 1,800 promptbooks, about half of which are for Shakespearean productions. Strictly speaking, “promptbooks” are play texts marked up prior to performance in order to indicate for the stage prompter the cuts, changes, additions, entrances and exits, and other stage business he is to follow in conducting the performance. Other marked-up play texts, also called promptbooks, provide evidence not of a prompter’s on-stage work, but of prior preparation.

Examples of Folger promptbooks

Othello production promptbook
An example of a theatrical production promptbook comes from this copy of an 1838 production of Othello (PROMPT Oth. 24). The book contains blank pages interleaved with the printed play, which shows how the director utilized the text to produce the show. The promptbook shows how the production was supposed to have been staged, with lighting guides, changes to the script, and sometimes even containing scraps of fabric or sketches of costume designs.
David Garrick's preparation promptbook of Hamlet
This "preparation promptbook" for David Garrick’s controversial revision of Hamlet for the 1772–73 season is not yet ready to be acted—or prompted—from but helps establish many of the radical changes Garrick made to Shakespeare’s play (PROMPT Ham. 16). In working on this version, Garrick did not use his own previously-published acting edition, first printed in 1763. Instead he marked up a 1747 copy of the standard text of the time (the version by Robert Wilks and John Hughs) and in some places pasted in leaves from his own 1763 text. Garrick divided the acts differently while reinstating over six hundred lines to the first three acts. But his most extensive changes were to condense the fourth and fifth acts where he deleted not only the popular gravediggers’ scene but also the fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet. Instead of this “rubbish” (as he called these scenes), Garrick considered multiple possible endings.

Finding promptbooks

HAMNET

Promptbooks as a genre

The two best ways to search for promptbooks as a genre in Hamnet are:

  • Select the Call Number Left-Anchored option on the Basic Search tab (or the Call Number option on the Advanced Search tab), and search for PROMPT. This will return all items assigned a promptbook collection call number.
  • Select the Subject & Form/Genre Browse option on the Basic Search tab (or the Form/Genre option on the Advanced Search tab), and search for "Promptbooks".

For widest possible results, combine the two searches using "OR" in the Advanced Search tab.


Promptbooks for individual plays

  • Advanced search tab: "prompt" in Call Number AND [play title] as a phrase in [Title]

Shakespeare promptbooks digitized by Adam Matthew

All but a small handful of Shakespeare promptbooks in the Folger collection can be found fully digitized at http://www.shakespeareinperformance.amdigital.co.uk/ (accessible onsite at the Folger, or through subscription). See List of digitized Folger promptbooks.

Microfilm database

  • HAMNET, eResources tab.
    • Select microfilms database, accept message on page redirect. Search by call number or FILM Fo. Number.
    • Also see the eResources tab for the Microfilm handlist.

Digital image database on LUNA

  • Search by call number, or PROMPT to browse high-resolution digital images of pages from our promptbooks.

Bibliography

Charteris, Richard. John Coprario: a thematic catalogue of his music with a bibliographical introduction. New York: Pendragon Press, 1977. Call number: ML134.C6 A15 Location: Deck B-Open Stacks
Drama on the world stage: prompt books [non-Shakespeare] and performance records. Series 1, The Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. : an inventory to the Research Publications microform collection. Reading, England: Research Publications, 1989. Call number: PN2193.P7 F6 Copy 1 Location: Deck B-Open Stacks
Harvard Theatre Collection. "Shakespeare promptbooks in the Harvard Theatre Collection." In Harvard Library Bulletin, v. 35, no. 1 (Winter 1987). Call number: PR3091 .N4 copy1 RR Location: RR-Reference Collection.
Langhans, Edward A. Eighteenth century British and Irish promptbooks. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. Call number: PN2593 .L2 copy 1 Location: DeckB-Open Stacks
Shakespearean prompt-books of the seventeenth century. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Charlottesville, Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1996. Call number: PR3091.E9 Location: Deck B-Open Stacks or Electronic copy
Shattuck, Charles Harlen. The Shakespeare promptbooks: a descriptive catalogue. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965. Call number: PR3091.S4 copy 2, 3, 5. Location: Deck B-Open Stacks
Finding aid: Guide to the Records of Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theatres, 1714-1880

Cataloging standards for Folger promptbooks

Cataloging policy for promptbooks has varied over the years: some are cataloged as unique items, others are cataloged as copies of the published title (with detailed local notes describing the markings).

  • Shakespearean promptbooks are classified with a prefix of PROMPT, followed by the play title and the next number in the series. They are in order of acquisition, not organized chronologically. For a complete list of Shakespeare play titles as used in PROMPT call numbers, see the Cat. abbrev. column in the List of Shakespeare's works article.
  • Non-Shakespearean promptbooks are classified with a prefix of PROMPT, in alphabetical order by first letter and assigned the next number in the sequence of that letter.
    • Example: Play title: Fair Quaker, or, The humours of the Navy by Charles Shadwell. Call number: PROMPT F10.

As of fall 2016, Folger staff catalog all promptbooks as unique items, regardless of whether we own other non-promptbook copies of the same printed edition. If an edition is extensively marked with general production notes, or for a particular character, assume it is a promptbook. The presence of only minor annotations may not be enough to call something a promptbook; check with your supervisor if uncertain.

Create a new record in Connexion for each promptbook. (If we do not have any unmarked copies of the print edition on which it is based, make sure we don't have holdings on the record of the print edition in OCLC.)

  • Create a devised title for the promptbook, in the following pattern: Promptbook for a production of [play] at [theatre], marked for [actor] in the role of [character], prepared by [preparer], ‡f [date of preparation]
  • Include the formal title(s) as printed and/or written on the item as an added title in a 246 field.
  • Create a production statement for the marked-up promptbook, not the published text. Add a 787 field to provide information about the published text:
264 0 ‡a [New York] : ‡b [John Moore?], ‡c [1878?]
787 08 ‡i Altered copy of: ‡a Mathews, Charles. ‡t Who killed Cock Robin? ‡d New York: Samuel French, 1876? ‡w (OCoLC)63964092
  • Add a 500 note: "Title devised by cataloger."
  • If the Folger holds non-promptbook versions of the same printed edition, indicate this with their call numbers in a 590 note. Add a reciprocal note to the non-promptbook version record, indicating the existence of the promptbook copy.
  • Include a 510 note if the promptbook is present in Shattuck or Langhans, following their standard citation forms. If the item is not listed in one of these sources, add a 500 note (e.g., "Not in Langhans."). This will ensure that any points of discrepancy or disagreement among the primary reference works are made apparent to researchers.
510 4 ‡a Shattuck, C.H. Shakespeare promptbooks: OTH, ‡c 20.
510 4 ‡a Langhans, E.A. Eighteenth century British and Irish promptbooks, ‡c pages 12-13.
  • Add a MARC 506 restricted access note to all promptbook records:
506 ‡a RESTRICTED--SPECIAL PERMISSION REQUIRED.
655 7 ǂa Promptbooks. ǂ2 rbgenr
  • Add other genre terms as appropriate, e.g.:
Interleaved copies (Provenance) ǂ2 rbprov
Cast lists. ‡2 rbgenr
Acting editions. ‡2 rbgenr
  • Add a 751 field for event place (assume this is the theater where the play was presented, unless there is strong evidence that the play was not ultimately produced).
  • Add a 752 field for the place of creation (assume this is the theater where the play was presented, unless it is known to be otherwise).
  • Trace prompters, annotators, and theaters, if known.
    • Make a personal name added entry for known or suspected prompter or annotator in a 700 field with a subfield ǂe "annotator," unless the name is already traced in a general 100 or 700 field.
    • Make an added entry for the theater for which a specific performance is marked. If this information comes from a source other than the manuscript, note of the source of your information in a 500 field.
  • Add a name-title heading for the play.
700 12 ‡i Container of (work): ‡a Shakespeare, William, ‡d 1564-1616. ‡t Romeo and Juliet
  • If the copy is marked for a particular character, or contains extensive notes about their costuming, etc., add subject headings for that character.
600 10 ‡a Shakespeare, William, ‡d 1564-1616 ‡x Characters ‡x Romeo.
600 10 ‡a Romeo (Fictitious character)
  • Add copy-specific notes in an 852 ‡z:
    • Indicate markings and annotations, giving the annotator whenever known.
    • Indicate which play(s) are marked, if in a collected edition.
    • Example 852 field:
852 8 ǂb DeckC-Rare ǂh PROMPT Cor. 1 ǂj cs1633 ǂz Promptbook checked by George W. Lewis for Tullus Aufidius. Outer margins trimmed, affecting some manuscript notes; interleaved. In ink on page [9] and facing interleaf: Marked as played at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, July 29th 1845, Geo. W. Lewis. In ink on title-page: Theatre Bowery Prompt Book 1841 June. Manuscript cast list. "Order of procession as done at the Walnut St. Theatre. 1845" on interleaves facing pages 31-33. Autograph of W.M. Foster on page 46; autograph of George Becks on title-page. Black cloth boards; black leather spine with gold title. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Folger.

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