Before he assassinated Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) was especially known for his performance as the hunchback king in Richard III. Booth, the son of noted Shakespearean actor Junius Brutus Booth (1796-1852) and younger brother to actor Edwin Booth (1833-1893), made his stage debut at the age of 17 as Richard III’s Earl of Richmond. Many of Booth’s manuscripts and personal effects were destroyed following Lincoln’s assassination. Very little remains to document Booth’s acting career.
This heavily annotated production promptbook, written in Booth’s own hand, is the best record of what his Richard III looked like. A second promptbook for this production is in the Harvard Theatre Collection, with some variations in the notations. It is believed that Booth had two copies so that one could be used at the theatre he was working at, and the other sent ahead to the next theatre where he was touring. However, it is also possible that one version is earlier than the other. These are the only promptbooks of John Wilkes Booth’s known to still exist.
The printed script is Colley Cibber’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, published by Samuel French in New York after 1846. It was bound with blank interleaved pages to add notation. Symbols written on the script side correspond to the notes on the opposing page. The promptbook includes notes for the entire production, not just Booth’s acting part, reflecting changes to the script, movement/blocking notation, and music and technical cues.
Cline Curator of Theatre and Performing Arts
Browse John Wilkes Booth's promptbook for Richard III.