Crowns and ducats
Shakespeare’s money and medals

19 April – 25 November 2012

Exhibition closed

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This display looks at the role of coins and medals in Shakespeare’s works and his world.

Shakespeare’s plays have many references to money. He expected his audience to recognise the numerous different coins that he mentioned and pick up messages about value, wealth and character. As well as the coins themselves, Shakespeare also drew on the language of reckoning and accounting, and of weighing and measuring the quality of money, often using this metaphorically to talk about people’s characters. In this display you can see the range of coins that appear in the plays and find out more about them.

As well as looking at the plays, the display features real objects that bring to life the world as it was around 400 years ago. Coins, medals and prints show that Shakespeare lived in a time of mass produced images. You can also find out how much it cost to go to the theatre in Elizabethan and Jacobean times – a highly popular public entertainment, open to all from the basest groundlings to the greatest lords, as well as sometimes moving its performances to the splendour of the royal court at Richmond, Whitehall or Hampton Court.

From the 18th century onwards, Shakespeare’s portrait and his plays have become widely familiar both nationally and internationally, one of Britain’s most important brands. The display also explores this phenomenon through its depiction on medals, coins, banknotes and credit cards.

From ducats, dollars and doits to angels, crowns and groats, find out how and why Shakespeare used coins to make the wider world seem familiar and the past and remote accessible to an English audience at some of the first purpose made English theatres.

Gold medal of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard. England, c. 1580–1590.