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Shakespeare on Stage

3. Props

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About this Lecture


In this module, we consider the props that Shakespeare's actors would have had use of. Since the Elizabethan stage genereally made very little use of scenery, props were often the quickest way to evoke whole scenes - so that Rome may be evoked by one character in a toga. In other cases, certain props were closely associated with stock characters - if the audience saw someone entering the stage carrying a large set of keys, for example, they would immediately identify that character as a jailor. Finally in this module, we explore the way in which Shakespeare uses props for secondary or metaphorical meaning.


In this course, Professor Tiffany Stern (University of Oxford) explores how Shakespeare was originally rehearsed, acted and watched, and how this might change our understand of some of his plays. In the first module, we think about actors' roles and rehearsals, looking in particular at the tendency for actors to be given only their part to learn, rather than a copy of the entire play. In the second module, we discuss the parts of the theatre, including the "heaven" and "hell" for the areas above and below the stage, respectively. In the third module, we think about the props that Shakespeare's actors would have used, before turning in the fourth module to the vvarious indoor and outdoor theatres that Shakespeare and other actors of his time would have used. In the fifth module, we take a closer look at some of Shakespeare's actors, including Richard Burbage and William Kempe, before turning in the sixth module to the idea that Shakespeare's depiction of time in this plays may have been impacted by the timepieces that were available at the time.


Tiffany works on theatre history from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, book history and editing; she specialises in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, particularly Jonson, Brome, Middleton and Nashe, and also write on seventeenth and eighteenth century playwrights and editors, including Wycherley, Farquhar, Sheridan, Theobald and Johnson. Looking at the theatrical contexts that bring plays about – by Shakespeare and others – is a keen interest of hers. Having researched the theatrical documents put together by authors and others in the process of writing and learning a play, she is repeatedly drawn back to actors’ parts, the documents consisting of cues and speeches from which actors learned their roles. She also writes on prologues, epilogues, songs, letters, arguments, plots and other stage documents; acting methods; theatrical props; and playhouse architecture.

She is currently writing a section on Shakespeare and sixteenth to eighteenth century performance for the revised Riverside Shakespeare, and am completing articles on Shakespeare and Time, Newsletters and Buckingham, and the works of Arthur Murphy. As a general editor she is, with Brian Gibbons and William C. Carroll, responsible for the New Mermaids play series; She is also an Arden Advisory Editor – she will be a general editor of Arden Shakespeare series 4 – and is on the editorial board of the RSC Shakespeare, the Greenwood Shakespeare Encylopedia, the Queen’s Men internet editions, and the journals Shakespeare Bulletin, SEDERI, The Hare and Shakespeare Quarterly.

Future research includes a book on early modern theatre and popular entertainment, Playing Fair: Fairs and Drama in 16th-18th Century London, for Cambridge University Press, exploring the cultural exchanges between playhouses and fairgrounds, and a book on Shakespeare Beyond Performance, putting 'literary' publication in the context of other immediate responses to Shakespearen performance -- ballads, drolls, puppet shows, notes and commonplaces, 'noted' texts.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Stern, T. (2018, August 15). Shakespeare on Stage - Props [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Stern, T. "Shakespeare on Stage – Props." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,