You will better understand and get the most benefit from this website if you read the Introductory paragraphs which follow and the Help section, which explain the kinds of information in the database and how to search it effectively. Because one of our main goals is to help people who want to examine how period documents were used in later writings that inform our understanding of early London theatre history, EMLoT only includes those historical occurrences that got recorded before 1642 and then were copied by others after 1642.
Most of what we know about the early London theatres, which developed before, during and shortly after the life of Shakespeare, has been passed down to us through a complex process of filtration. Documents written at the time have been selected, copied, adapted, and interpreted over subsequent centuries, and that process has shaped our understanding. In turn, what we do with this received information will determine how future generations view the early theatres.
There is nothing wrong with such a process of filtration: it is both inevitable, and a fit subject in its own right for cultural history. On occasion, it may even preserve lost originals through copying. At its best, the filtration process is called ‘scholarship’, and even at its worst, it still reveals the attitudes of those who did the filtering. But we need to be aware of its methods and effects if we are fully to comprehend why we think as we do about the early London theatres. Admittedly, being aware of this filtration does not permit us to escape the cultural limits which define our interpretations any more than those earlier writers who passed on original documents about the theatres could escape the cultural limits of their own time. But, while we cannot be innocent, we need not be naïve, and this database, amongst other things, is designed to prevent naïvety by revealing the filtration process at work. It helps to show us what we know about the early London theatres, and how and when we came to know it.
This database does not include everything that ever happened in or to the early modern London theatres and the people who had dealings with them – it only includes those historical occurrences that got written about before 1642 in documents that then also got recopied by others after 1642. If this sounds rather disappointingly narrow, think about the countless events that happen in one’s own life. Only some of them get noticed; fewer still get remembered, even by oneself; fewer still generate written records (even one’s diary doesn’t contain everything) and fewer still of these written records will be recognised as sufficiently important to get copied down again by other people. And so in 500 years time, what will remain of all the things which happened in one’s life? If one is lucky, some of the original documents will have survived, together with those later documents which copied them out. So, if people 500 years from now were to ask themselves what had happened in your life, the big events would not be what actually happened to you, they would be the documents. The documents would be the only ‘events’ left, and that is the kind of ‘event’ that this database includes.
The core function of the Early Modern London Theatres (EMLoT) database is to show how information produced at the time of the early London theatres was transmitted in later years.
Consequently, the database only includes information from Primary Sources, that is documents written before 1642, which were subsequently seen and transcribed (copied) by writers in Secondary Sources, that is documents written after 1642. In this way, the database both provides information which was contemporary with the early theatres and also identifies the means by which that information came to be known more widely in the centuries afterwards.
Of course, one Primary Source might have its information transcribed in more than one Secondary Source, and the same Secondary Source could transcribe more than one Primary Source. The database manages and reveals both situations.
The database describes where in the Primary or Secondary sources you will find the relevant information about the early London theatres, and it describes each source, whether Primary or Secondary, exactly, so that you can cite all its publication details. This includes its original title and how it is now known; its short and full title; its author(s); where it can be consulted in full, including its presence in any digitised collection; whether it is now lost or can be considered a forgery. All the bibliographical facts necessary for you to identify, describe, access and record a source of information, whether created before or after 1642, are included in the database.
The database also provides a summary and an Abstract of that information in the Primary Source which was subsequently transcribed in the Secondary source. It tells you how the Primary Source was treated by the later transcriber, for example, whether it was copied in full or excerpted, or had its spelling and punctuation updated. By recording transcriptions of every kind, faithful, excerpted, emended or otherwise adulterated, the database enables you to consider not only the frequency with which a primary source was published, but also its various treatments over time, and at the hands of different editors: which documents tend to be preserved whole, and which heavily excerpted; which preserved in facsimile, and which modernized.
The database categorises both the Primary and Secondary Sources in considerable detail, so that you know exactly what kind of documents you are dealing with. For example, letters, accounts, and jest books appear among the many categories of Primary Sources; anthologies, diaries, and monographs appear among the rather fewer categories of Secondary Sources. It also tells you whether the Source was produced under the auspices of any institution, listing, for example, the Primary Sources generated by the Court of Chancery or the many Secondary Sources which are the products of single authors with no significant institutional links.
It also tags each source in a more thematic way using a number of helpful descriptors to enable you to refine your searches: for example, it might identify a source as ‘anti-theatrical’ or ‘topographical’ or ‘parliamentary’ in character.
The database also categorises the contents of all its sources into the people, the places, the acting troupes, and the events about which they include information. From this you can learn both about the pre-1642 theatres themselves, by accessing the contents of those Primary Sources which were later transcribed, and also about the filtration process through which that original information has come down to us in Secondary Sources: who was involved in passing on that information, what they selected, and when and where they passed it on.
The database also sub-categorises its people, places, troupes and events in a more descriptive way so that, for example, you can look for all events of a particular kind, public disturbances, for instance; or for the different social and situational roles which the same person might have performed in an event, such as a widow who also appeared as plaintiff in a court case; or for the countries of origin of playing troupes, or for all the theatrical information related to a particular London locale, such as St Martin in the Fields. The original historical occurrences about which the Primary Sources recorded information are themselves dated since there could be a considerable delay before they were referred to in the Primary Source document.
This database is not only a finding tool, like an Index, or an alphabetical bibliography. It can be used like that: you can conduct a simple Keyword Search for a specific item which you already know you want to study. But by linking up all the categories and sub-categories of its sources, and of the information they contain, the database has enabled you to explore, starting anywhere in the records and discovering how pieces of information are related. This is called a Browse Search. With it you can search and sort any combination of terms while preserving the discrete identity of the Primary Sources in which the information originated and the Secondary Sources through which it passed.
The database includes a Learning Zone. This has a number of areas: firstly, an Acknowledgements section where we thank those who have permitted us to use their material; secondly, a Tutorial (see below); some suggestions for Other learning activities and Related projects and sites which you might find useful; and, finally, a Workspace where you can select items from the database and put them in an order suitable for your own purposes, such as giving a class presentation. You can save items to this workspace by using the workspace button on each database entry, but you will first have to Register that you want to have a workspace. See ‘How do I register for workspace?’ in the Help menu.
The Tutorial shows you historical ‘knowledge’ in the making. Taking a specific historical occurrence, the 1617 rioting which affected the Phoenix Theatre, the Tutorial traces how the event was represented in a succession of documents from the days shortly after the riot until the twentieth century. It maps these documents on a Timeline as it goes, and shows how they relate to each other. These documents were serving very diverse functions and they often used a different selection of previous documents to make their case, but they were themselves the sources for later accounts of the event. This process continues to the present, and some modern critics have generously agreed that their work can be used to demonstrate this process in action.
Pre-1642 information about the theatres will only appear if a subsequent transcriber has picked it up and passed it on. However, this process of filtration is still going on: if a hitherto-untranscribed pre-1642 Primary Source comes to be transcribed in a Secondary Source, now or in the future, these linked Sources will duly be included in the database.
EMLoT aspires to be a major encyclopedic resource on the early London stage, as well as a comprehensive historiographical survey of the field. However, it does not include every subsequent quotation of a particular Primary Source. Even if such completeness were possible, it would obscure the route by which Primary Sources become known to a wider audience. So the database cites only those Secondary Sources where the database compilers are reasonably confident that the Primary Source was actually seen (in reality or photographic facsimile) before being transcribed — allusions and paraphrases are generally not enough to earn a place in EMLoT!
This database does not include play texts, but, for example, it will reveal which play texts became more widely available through eighteenth-century collections and thus it charts the formation of the canon of early modern English drama. Playtexts can be accessed electronically through other sites such as EEBO and ECCO.
The database has yet to cover the important theatres on the South Bank of the Thames. We would now consider them part of central London but in the period of early English drama they were outside the city limits, just like the theatres of Middlesex which are included in this first version of the database. The Bankside theatres in the historic county of Surrey will be the next group added to EMLoT.
You will find the key terms which are used in the database explained in Help: Key Terms.
You will find explanations of how to conduct a Keyword or a Browse Search in Help, together with a guide on how to search EMLoT most effectively.