Lincoln’s Shakespeare

In his letter of 17 August 1863, Lincoln told the actor James H. Hackett: “Some of Shakespeare’s plays I have never read, whilst others I have gone over perhaps as frequently as any unprofessional reader. Among the latter are ‘Lear,’ ‘Richard Third,’ ‘Henry Eighth,’ ‘Hamlet,’ and especially ‘Macbeth.’ I think nothing equals ‘Macbeth.’” This book is part of a six-volume set of Shakespeare’s works that Lincoln owned. In April 1865 Lincoln met with Generals Grant and Sherman to discuss strategy for concluding the war. By then Macbeth had come to occupy a central place in Lincoln’s mind. On his return to Washington from Virginia on the steamer River Queen, with this copy in hand, Lincoln read passages from the play aloud to his guests for several hours.