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Making Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Reception History

Second quarto
Second Quarto (1619)
Image Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library


An important part of understanding the development of Shakespeare's reputation is considering the stage history of his plays. What is the historical context of a given performance? How did it break with tradition or establish a new interpretive direction? What was the contemporary reaction to the performance, and what is its importance to scholars today?

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the evidence of history. They are first-hand accounts created by participants or observers of an event or period of time.

There are many kinds of primary sources, including:

  • texts (plays, diaries, letters, newspaper articles, autobiographies),
  • images (paintings, advertisements, posters, photographs, maps),
  • artifacts (memorabilia, costumes, playbills), and
  • audio/visual materials (songs, films, oral histories, interviews).

Many primary sources you will encounter have been reproduced in print publications or transferred into a digital format, but you may encounter some in their original forms when you work with Special Collections.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are interpretations, analyses, and evaluations of events, people, works, and topics. They are created after the fact, based on an examination of primary sources and other secondary sources. In history and the humanities, they are generally books and scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles.

A third type of sources are reference works like encyclopedias or dictionaries that provides a broad introduction or overview of a topic. A few are included below.

Getting Started with Reference Sources