Portrait of Richard Burbage By Permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery London

From 15th April, an exhibition named Shakespeare in Ten Acts will showcase the 400 years of Shakespeare’s history at the British Library.

The exhibition will focus on the performances that made Shakespeare an icon and will chart his reinvention across the centuries, beginning with the first productions of Hamlet and The Tempest.

Groups will discover how the famous playwrite’s works have been transformed for the new generation of theatre-goers, showcasing over 200 rare and unique items.

On show will be the only surviving play-script in Shakespeare’s hand, an authentic Shakespeare signature, the earliest printed edition of Hamlet from 1603 and Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Visitors will learn how audiences reacted to the first stage appearance by a female actor in 1660, and the first performance by a black actor in Othello in 1825.

Groups will also be able to view Vivien Leigh’s Lady Macbeth costume, the circus props from the 1970s Peter Brook directed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the costumes from the Globe’s Twelfth Night.

An insight into Shakespeare’s character can also be gained from an excerpt of Elizabethan gossip taken from the diary of a law student named John Manningham. The entry – dated 13th March 1602 – tells a story about Shakespeare and his friend and actor Richard Burbage.

Manningham writes how Shakespeare stole his friend’s invitation to visit a female fan after Burbage’s performance in Richard III at the Globe, and how he sent back a message stating “William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third”.

The British Library is also joining forces with the BBC to create a digital picture of the explosion in the performance of Shakespeare’s plays, as part of Shakespeare on Tour.

This project will combine new academic research with stories of Shakespeare’s performances told through original playbills from the late 18th century onwards.

Shakespeare in Ten Acts will run at the British Library until 6th September.

For more information visit www.bl.co.uk.