Our collection brings to life the RSC’s history in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Started by Charles Edward Flower in 1879, the RSC collection is one of the most significant Shakespeare and theatre collections in the world.

Material spans from the 1600s to the present day and offers an insight into the history of performance, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Stories of often ground-breaking performances remind us of developing stagecraft, how performance has changed over time and the early stage careers of familiar screen actors such as Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart and David Tennant.

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Our former Artistic Director Gregory Doran as he looks back at some of the props and artefacts he used in his 50 RSC productions. Hear about how the items were made, which productions they featured in and some special behind-the-scenes stories never shared before.

Costume dummy wearing a white tshirt and white blazer that have been painted over in bright colours


We have more than 4,000 items in our costume collection. They include costumes from every one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, and from other RSC shows, such as Matilda and Dr Faustus.

The Benson Company costumes

Our oldest set of costumes comes from the Benson Company who performed Shakespeare’s plays during the Victorian period.

The Benson Company was a group of actors led by actor-manager Frank Benson from 1853. For centuries after Shakespeare’s death his plays were rarely performed in Stratford-upon-Avon. The Benson Company, with its annual Shakespeare Festival changed this and laid the early foundations for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Their festival put Stratford-upon-Avon on the map and thousands of tourists flooded into the town of Shakespeare’s birth. 

We have several Benson Company costumes in the RSC Collection, including Constance Benson’s costume for Lady Macbeth (1902), and the robe Frank Benson wore as Richard II (1900).

Significant costumes from 1949 to present day

The main body of our costume collection dates from 1949 to the present day with a wide range of objects. They include the belt Vivien Leigh wore as Lady Macbeth in 1952, made from the pioneering sculpted felt technique developed by our very own Costume workshop in 1950s, and the screen-printed red t-shirt that David Tennant wore as Hamlet in 2008.

We also have the accessories which were worn alongside the main costume, such as the crown Helen Mirren wore as Cleopatra in 1982.

Actors’ costumes we have in the collection:

  • Vivien Leigh – Lady Macbeth green satin dress, 1952
  • Laurence Olivier
  • Richard Burton
  • Paul Robeson
  • Judi Dench
  • Ian McKellen
  • David Tennant
  • Juliet Stevenson
  • Meera Syal
  • Papa Essiedu

Famous designers whose costumes are featured include:

  • Peter Brook
  • Abdul Farrah
  • Maria Bjornson
  • Ultz
  • Bob Crowley


Our Artwork Collection dates back to when the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre housed its own picture gallery for the people of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1881 of both paintings and sculpture.

With paintings by Sir Walter Sickert and Sir Antony Sher, our artwork collection can be considered in three categories: portraits of Shakespeare, scenes from Shakespeare plays and actors as Shakespeare characters.

We have 13 individual portraits of Shakespeare alone in our artwork collection. Our most famous Shakespeare portrait is the "Flower Portrait", named after Mrs Charles Flower, who donated it to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. It was claimed by to be the original portrait from which the engraving by Droeshout in the front of the First Folio was produced.

One of our most recognisable paintings is The Weird Sisters: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3 by Henry Fuseli, 1783. A painting which explores the supernatural world in which Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is set. It shows an opening scene, where three witches, or weird sisters, foretell the character Macbeth’s future as king.

Peggy Ashcroft was an actor who worked extensively with the RSC throughout her career and one of our paintings, by Ethel Leonine Gabain, depicts her as the infamous character, Juliet. It shows her in an orange velvet dress she wore in 1935, one of many dresses we have that she has worn that we also have in our Costume Collection.

Other painters in our collection:

  • Sir Antony Sher
  • Dame Laura Knight
  • Frederick William Davis
  • Victor Muller
  • Angelica Kauffman
  • John Everett Millais
  • Fuseli
  • George Frederic Watts

Actors featured in artwork:

  • Ben Kingsley
  • Anthony Quayle
  • Dame Edith Evans
  • David Garrick
  • Ellen Terry
  • Frank Benson
  • Sir Henry Irving
  • Laurence Olivier
  • Sir Michael Redgrave
  • David Warner
  • Sir Antony Sher

You can explore more artworks from the RSC Collection online at Art UK

Props & objects

Our Props and Objects Collection is the most varied in our whole museum collection. It includes props from RSC productions, as well as staging equipment like lighting rigs, large scenic panels and stage weights. We even have prop paintings, one of which is clearly a copy of Gustav Klimt’s Judith II (Salome) created by our talented Scenic Workshop team.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play all about fantasy which means there are plenty of weird and wonderful props that we have in our props collection such as pixie ears from 1989, large donkey teeth for Bottom in 1994, colourful noise makers from Peter Brook’s pivotal production from 1970 and even a realistic dog puppet from 1981.

We have many items in our Props and Objects Collection that don’t easily fit inside a box to store, such as the miniature golden carriage is from The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich (The Beau Defeated), 2017.

We have a large collection of prop swords, from heavy blunted metal swords to flashy feather-weight broad swords and even the prop sword which King George V used to knight the actor manager Frank Benson in 1916.


We have a paper archive consisting of approximately 25,000 books, including Shakespeare’s folios from all four editions of print, several quartos, Early Modern literature, as well as production images, musical scores, prompt books and costume bibles from RSC productions.

A Costume Bible is a document of reference for the designer of the show which starts off a place to collect all the inspiration images and costume designs for characters and then eventually progresses into very important information relating to each character and to each costume they wear and in what scene they wear it. This is hugely important during the design and throughout the run of the show, which is why it is referred to as a bible just for the costumes. There are swatches of the fabric used, accessories used such as buttons and thread which the Running Wardrobe department use during the run of the show for any repairs needed; a very useful piece of kit for a busy working theatre. It is also a great resource to check what kind of material was used for previous costumes which we might have in our Costume Collection which help inform how to best care for it for many generations to come.

Our Archive Collection is cared for at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust home to the largest library and archive dedicated to Shakespeare. You can browse what is housed there on their online database from production photos, cast lists, programmes and posters of our productions since its foundation. Our archive collection also includes DVD recordings of our productions which you can explore online and then arrange to see in person by booking with Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Explore our archive and library through the Discover Shakespeare online catalogue or by visiting the Reading Room service at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon.

If you have a question about our archive and library contact collections@shakespeare.org.uk.

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