You know your Shakespeare, but who else was writing for the early modern stage? What did drama look like between 1576 to 1642? How long did plays take to reach print? What playing companies appeared on the title page? Who printed drama?
Last month, the Folger Institute launched A Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama, the Folger’s NEH-funded hub for early modern drama. This brand new, freely accessible resource allows you to explore plays written primarily by authors other than Shakespeare that were performed between 1576 and 1642, and which were printed by 1660. These plays span the period from the opening of the first purpose-built theater in London—creatively named “The Theatre”—to the closing of the theaters during the English Civil War.
The Digital Anthology is a collection of 403 plays by 78 authors, from the well known Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe to the more obscure Thomas Goffe, Lewis Machin, and Thomas Jordan, as well as that prolific playwright Anonymous. Our focus on the plays of London’s professional stage excluded works that were only performed by amateurs at the universities or at the Inns of Court, early modern London’s law schools. We also ruled out masques only performed at Court, but included works performed in private theaters like the Cockpit (for the record, fifteen plays mention the Cockpit on the title page of their first edition). 31 playing companies are represented in the Digital Anthology, including twelve boy companies, listed either as the company associated with the first production of a play, or the company mentioned on the title page, or both.
Each play has a descriptive “play page” that provides information on the earliest surviving print edition, its earliest performance history, and bibliographic references. General information about the play appears in the black header at the top: the author(s) if known, the type of company the play was written for, its genre (which can be highly contested!), and dates of first performance and first publication.
Information about the playbook of the first printed edition appears below this header. This includes original-spelling transcriptions from the title page as well as standardized information about the printers, publishers, and format. 315 of these plays were printed in quarto format, while only ten appear in duodecimo. Each play gets its own page, even when printed in a collection, so the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio (Wing B1581), is represented by 33 separate pages. You can search all these fields, including bibliographic references like STC and Wing numbers, through our Advanced Search.
From the play pages, you can browse information about the plays and access additional material like title page images or records of Folger copies, as well as find links to other editions where relevant. Grey hyperlinks allow you to browse terms across the Digital Anthology, exploring, for example, works printed by Robert Robinson or performed by Pembroke’s Men.
Red hyperlinks connect you to resources outside the Digital Anthology like the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP), or the Digital Renaissance Editions (DRE) versions of a play.
Folks who are more computationally inclined can access XML files for the plays, encoded transcriptions produced by the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP) and the Shakespeare His Contemporaries projects. You can download these files from each play page individually, or curate your own corpus through our Corpus Search function which allows you to download groups of XML files.
Reading versions for a selection of texts will be released this fall. Digital documentary editions are currently being prepared by the encoding team, Meaghan Brown, Mike Poston, and Elizabeth Williamson. We are basing our editions on the files produced by the EEBO-TCP and emended by the SHC, and are currently busy filling in gaps, correcting errors, regularizing the encoding, and adding new details on the play as material object, including things like running heads and catchwords. The project team will produce about 40 documentary editions over the next year. The first batch of these texts will include the complete works of Christopher Marlowe.
Finally, we also offer a Featured Research and Teaching area, where you will be able to access additional resources and pedagogical materials to help incorporate use of Digital Anthology into your research and teaching. Material such as lesson plans and syllabi will be made available from this fall. Over the next year, we aim to help general readers, researchers, students, performers, and teachers explore the wider world of early modern drama, whether that’s through reading plays by Thomas Nashe or John Ford, browsing who performed what when, or thinking through the provenance of plays as they move from print shop to library shelf to digital display.