Research for Before Shakespeare (as any project interested in theatre and performance history) sits on the advances made through major projects over the past decades, particularly by the Records of Early English Drama (REED) project based at the University of Toronto. REED has provided theatre historians with an invaluable resource in its collections of performance documents and records from across medieval and early modern England. We’re excited to feature a guest post from Sally-Beth MacLean announcing REED’s move online, with discussion of this new platform’s potential for research Before Shakespeare and beyond!
We at the Records of Early English Drama (REED) project are delighted to announce the launch of REED Online (ereed.library.utoronto.ca), our new open-access website. The site features REED’s first digital edition of dramatic records for the county of Staffordshire. Easily searched with a number of helpful filters, online records appear conveniently on the same page as their translations, document descriptions, and any glosses or related endnotes. GIS mapping based on the Patrons and Performances map of historic county boundaries and main roads illuminates the county in the context of the wider kingdom. For students and those new to records research, search tips, an introduction to the research process, and an anatomy of a sample record provide a welcoming guide.
Staffordshire is REED’s pilot digital publication, with more collections coming on the same website to enable easy cross-collection searching. We are currently in production for the new Berkshire edition but we are also aiming to integrate data from REED’s longstanding Patrons and Performances website (reed.library.utoronto.ca) so that users can track the fuller details of touring medieval and renaissance performance troupes, their patrons and the alternative theatre sites they used on their travels through the provinces. Ultimately REED’s goal is to integrate data from its legacy print collections, including the 7 volumes dedicated to the London records, together with data from the Early Modern London Theatres website (www.emlot.kcl.ac.uk) while continuing to upload new county collections on the same website hub.
The relevance of the Staffordshire records, edited by J.A.B. Somerset, may appear very tangential to the interests of Before Shakespeare’s community. More obvious will be the London collections as well as the theatre records in the Middlesex and Surrey editions, still under development. However, just as an example, Staffordshire has a nugget of information about the travels of Ambrose Dudley, the earl of Warwick’s players, to Lichfield in 1575, the year of the Queen’s progress through the county. Warwick’s Men also played Coventry, likely on the same tour – but at least one of their members, Jerome Savage, must have also been laying plans for his involvement with a new theatre at Newington Butts in the London area. If Savage became the manager of the theatre in Newington, Surrey by 1576, then the acting troupe he belonged to may have been the first in residence there, so their activities in the provinces in the same period are relevant. As we can only speculate about the actual performance conditions of the Newington theatre (the Elephant and Castle site where its foundations may be lurking has not been excavated), the survival of performance spaces in the provinces that the troupe used should be of interest. The rectangular St Mary’s Hall in Coventry is one of these – a fuller description with images is available on the Patrons and Performances website (reed.library.utoronto.ca/content/st-marys-guildhall). Also worth checking out are bibliographic references to Warwick’s Men and Newington Butts collected on the Early Modern London Theatres website while we wait for the final edited version of the theatre’s records to be published on REED Online.
As REED digs into the production of the county of Berkshire collection, and the further development of REED Online, we welcome all comments and suggestions from users. Please send any feedback to REED’s project manager, Carolyn Black, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
REED, University of Toronto