The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

New resources, old plays: expanding A Digital Anthology of Early Modern Drama

The Folger’s Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama (EMED) is delighted to announce the release of twenty early modern plays, freely available to read and download. EMED offers you the chance to explore the vibrant scene of professional theater in early modern London, from a swash-buckling maid to ghastly—but creative—revenge.

Left: Title page of Thomas Heywood, The Fair Maid of the West (London: Miles Flesher for Richard Royston, 1631), Folger STC 13320 v.1. Right: Title page of Thomas Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy (London: George Eld, 1607), Folger STC 24149.

We offer a variety of plays, from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Thomas Middleton’s Changeling, which have had a spate of recent productions, to the less well known—sometimes the much less well known. There’s plenty to discover, from early modern polyjuice potions in John Fletcher’s Faithful Shepherdess to some extremely bad behavior in the city comedy London Prodigal, written by that prolific playwright, Anonymous.

These featured plays are selected from our wider database of over four hundred plays, which span the era from the opening of the first purpose-built theater in London, The Theatre, in 1576 to the closing of the theaters in 1642 during the English Civil War. By providing access to drama by early modern authors other than Shakespeare, we are able to highlight a range of topics and genres, with a mix of comedies, tragedies, history plays, some romances, and even a pastoral (we explored the complexities of assigning these genres in a previous Collation post).

EMED’s list of featured plays, freely available to read and download in a variety of formats.

Our full-text documentary editions represent a specific copy of the first printed edition of these plays, allowing you to see a play as its earliest readers would have first read it. Early modern spelling can be highly variable and sometimes tricky to read. Our new reading interface lets you easily switch between original and regularized views of these texts: take a look at The Roaring Girl and select your view on the right-hand side.

Original (left) and regularized (right) spelling views. Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Roaring Girl, in A Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama, Meaghan Brown, Michael Poston, and Elizabeth Williamson, eds. Folger Shakespeare Library.

In addition to reading the plays online, there are a number of other ways to access these texts. The first editions of Christopher Marlowe’s seven plays are now released in HTML, PDF and XML, for you to read, download, analyze, and re-use.1 Our brand-new beta versions of thirteen other plays are now available to read; we will soon release further enhanced versions in all three formats, along with a further twelve plays.

Our newly-relaunched EMED website now also offers a selection of resources to help you explore the plays and the project as a whole, from a detailed insight into the work of our editorial and encoding team (Meaghan Brown, Mike Poston, and Elizabeth Williamson), to suggestions for further resources. Find out more about where our texts come from and how we edit these documentary editions in our Editing resources page. Use the site as a launching pad to explore the wider world of Performance history and early modern theaters. Discover what’s behind a text on our Data page, where you can dig into code, download files, and explore algorithmic approaches to the plays. Find newly imaged playbooks from the Folger’s holdings in our Facsimiles page. Get inspired by ideas for Teaching EMED in your classroom.

We welcome further collaboration and contributions to these resources. Get in touch to offer comments or suggestions, and enjoy the rich repertoire of early modern London’s playing companies!

EMED resources: find out more about the plays and the processes behind their creation.

This project is funded by a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant from the NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access.

  1. While, unlike Shakespeare, no one has yet given Marlowe’s plays the Star Wars treatment, you’re free to do so. May the Fourth be with you.

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