Finding Early Modern Plays

Scholars are aware of 750 to 2000 early modern plays. The number varies depending on the temporal limits of the list and the scholarly assumptions about what constitutes a “play.” Some of those plays are lost, although we know from various sources that they were performed and/or printed; see the Lost Plays Database ( for a growing list of lost plays and information on how we know what we know about those plays. Some extant plays survive in manuscript, others in printed books. Some plays have been remediated by editorial labours, and a small subset of those plays have been edited and analyzed many times (e.g., the plays of William Shakespeare). Other plays have never been edited at all, and plays without reading texts generally escape critical attention. Therein lies a lesson for us about the importance of remediation … and a research opportunity for you!

In this course, you will adopt a play and follow its fortunes from the early modern period to the present day. You will learn about its textual challenges, transmission history, and remediations (or lack thereof). You will learn what scholars have said (or not said) about the play, and whether or not the standard bibliographies and research tools have included your play. You will encode part of the play in TEI-XML. You will write a proposal to remediate the play via performance, an edition, and/or digitization. Choose your play carefully; it will be your constant companion for the next seven weeks.


  1. Any playwright except Shakespeare is fair game.
  2. Avoid the major plays by the other major playwrights. For example, you’d want to avoid The Alchemist by Ben Jonson. Try to find a play that hasn’t been extensively analyzed or repeatedly edited. (Spoiler alert: I am going to ask you to make exhaustive bibliographies of all the editions and all the criticism on your play.) To get a quick sense of whether “your” play has an extensive editorial/critical history, do a search in the MLA International Bibliography. The Alchemist turns up 236 results; you want to find something with considerably fewer results (5-20, say).
  3. The play must be extant, not lost.
  4. Although it would be fun to work with a manuscript, I’m going to insist that the play be one that survives in an early printed text. It takes a long time to acquire the palaeographical skills required to work with early modern manuscripts. How will you know if it’s a printed play? Check DEEP: Database of Early English Playbooks.
  5. It can be closet drama, an entertainment, a pageant, or a stage play.
  6. Your play cannot be Heywood’s If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody, Part II (only because that’s my exemplary play for this course).
  7. If you are totally at a loss, I have a list of plays that need adoption.

Finding Aids

Bentley, Gerald Eades. The Jacobean and Caroline Stage. 7 vols. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1941-68. Vols. 3-5 list plays and playwrights. The library copies are in the stacks. PN2592 B35. Please use them in situ.

Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 vols. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1923. Rpt. 1945, 1951 and 1974. Vols. 3-4 list plays and playwrights. The library copies of the 1951 reprints are in the stacks. PN2589 C4 1951. Please use them in situ. I have my own set in the ISE cubicle.* You will also find the volumes at the Internet Archive: Volume 1 (1923), Volume 2 (1923), Volume 3 (1945), and Volume 4 (1923).

DEEP: Database of Early English Playbooks.  Ed. Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser. Created 2007 and continuously updated.

Greg, William Walter. A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration. 4 vols. London: Bibliographical Society, 1939-1959. The library copies are in the Basement Compact Shelving. Z2014 D7G78. Please use them in situ and don’t get squished.

Harbage, Alfred. Annals of English Drama, 975-1700: An Analytical Record of All Plays, Extant or Lost, Chronologically Arranged and Indexed by Authors, Titles, Dramatic Companies, etc. 3rd ed. Rev. Sylvia Stoler Wagonheim. London: Routledge, 1989. The library is searching for its copy, which apparently has no call number. Therein lies a bibliography mystery. In the meantime, we will get by with the 1964 edition, rev. by Samuel Schoenbaum. You’ll find the library copy in the Basement Compact Shelving. Z2014 D7H25 1964. Please use it in situ.

Wiggins, Martin. British Drama 1533-1642: A Catalogue. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012-. 8 vols have been printed thus far. The library copies are on Reserve. PR651 W488 2012. I have a partial set of my own copies in the ISE cubicle.*

* The ISE cubicle is located in the Humanities Computing and Media Centre (Library A316). You may borrow my books, but please use them only in HCMC or in the Digital Scholarship Commons next door. If I am not there, please let Judy Nazar at the reception desk know why you are taking a book from my cubicle. Write the title of the volume and your name on my whiteboard.

Due Date

You must have chosen your play by Friday, May 18, 2018. Come to class prepared to share the following information:

  • Title
  • Date of composition and/or performance
  • Author(s) (if known) or possible contenders for authorship
  • Performance venue and/or occasion (if the play was performed and if the venue and/or occasion are known)


There’s no formal credit for this preliminary piece of work. You’ll be returning to this page when you need to use the finding aids to gather further information.