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Lincoln scholar Douglas Wilson wrote that Lincoln “repeatedly returned to Shakespeare, whom he had probably first read as a boy in William Scott’s Lessons in Elocution and for whom he had a lifelong fascination.”[1]

According to aide John Hay, Lincoln “read Shakespeare more than all other writers together.”[2]

Lincoln’s favorite play was Macbeth. “I think nothing equals Macbeth. It is wonderful,” President Lincoln wrote.[3]

He enjoyed the theater and attended as often as he could, finding it an enjoyable retreat from the heavy burdens of the war and the Presidency.  On the night of April 14, 1865, President Lincoln and his wife were enjoying the comedy Our American Cousin when John Wilkes Booth slipped into the presidential box and fatally shot Lincoln.

Some of Lincoln’s favorite plays include:

  • Macbeth
  • Hamlet
  • King John
  • Richard II
  • Henry IV
  • Henry V
  • Henry VI
  • Richard III

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission worked with the Shakespeare Theater and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., along with the Library of Congress, to produce programs on Lincoln, Shakespeare, and the history of plays, with actors reading Lincoln’s favorites.

Other Shakespeare theaters, notably Chicago Shakespeare Theater, created their own Lincoln and Shakespeare programs.

The Civil War Preservation Trust produced The Almanac Trial: Abraham Lincoln's Most Famous Trial.  The historical play, by Georgeanne and Vernon Burton, follows Lincoln's 1858 defense of William "Duff" Armstrong murder trial in Beardstown, IL

A number of community organizations developed various theater programs focused on Lincoln.  Programs endorsed by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission include:


[1] Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln Before Washington, p. 10.

[2] Michael Burlingame,  At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 137.

[3] Francis Carpenter,  Six Months at the White House