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Shakespeare and Mass Incarceration Rare Book Exhibit

Why is Shakespeare so often found in prisons? His plays frequently appear in prison libraries, arts programs, and higher education classrooms. This is, in part, because of the plays’ cultural prestige, but it is also because they invite readers to consider the relationship between justice and mercy, the nature of revenge, and the reasons a virtuous person might be driven to violent acts. In Shakespeare’s lifetime, he would have encountered a variety of prisons—debtor’s prisons, houses of correction, and the Tower of London. Imprisonment, forced labor, and corporal punishment are central themes in his plays. This exhibit traces the entanglements between Shakespeare and prisons across time, placing the plays in conversations with writing from within and about Massachusetts prisons.