◎ JADH2016

Sep 12-14, 2016 The University of Tokyo

The Echo of Print: Outing Shakespeare’s Source Code at St Paul’s
Thomas W Dabbs (Aoyama Gakuin University)

This talk will examine how digital platforms in development may be used to undo a scholarly dogma that has historically restricted our understanding of Shakespearean drama. Traditionally these dramas have been viewed as privileged primary literature that has been fused with lesser secondary sources by a singular creative genius. The use of the term source suggests to us that plot of Romeo and Juliet, for instance, was drawn from minor or obscure print editions that the Bard of Avon molded into a fine literary work.

This line of reasoning is flawed. To view Ovid’s Metamorphoses and its popular Elizabethan translation into English by Arthur Golding as secondary to Shakespeare’s frequent use of this edition, is comparable to saying that J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is secondary to the film adaptations of the same story. Many of the so-call sources that Shakespeare and other playwrights used, for instance the popular collection of stories in William Painter’s Palace of Pleasure, were more prominent in the minds of the Elizabethan public than the plays adapted from them. By cross-referencing searchable databases and digital reconstructions of Elizabethan London, we can see that Shakespearean drama was in fact keenly adapted to the popular reception of printed works available in English, particularly in the St Paul’s precinct.

This talk will examine digital reconstructions of the St Paul’s cathedral precinct in the City of London, the center of the book selling industry during the Elizabethan period. The cathedral’s great and boisterous nave, Paul’s Walk, and the open churchyard full of bookshops at Paul’s Cross, were centers for broadcasting new print. Until recently, however, it has been difficult to visualize this enormous locale as it existed during the Elizabethan period. Digital reconstructions of the cathedral precinct show that Shakespearean plays and many other plays were not crafted from obscure or lesser books. Instead such plays echoed from local theatres the reception of popular printed works particularly in the public sphere at St Paul’s.

Fig 1. Cropped from a 17th-century Dutch painting (Museum of London), showing the enormity of St Paul’s and its proximity with the public theatres flying their flags.

As a work sample, this talk will examine the single example of William Painter’s Palace of Pleasure. This popular work comprised Painter’s translations of many classical and continental stories, including, among other Shakespearean adaptations, the stories of Romeo and Juliet and Timon of Athens. This publication was used by pre-Shakespearean playwrights to craft a spate of plays after its popular reception in the City of London and specifically at St Paul’s. By the time Shakespearean plays reached the public stage, the use of Painter and other popular authors had become something of a template for staging successful productions.

Several digital initiatives will be used to show the progress from the printing of Painter’s work to its open public reception with stories from it being adapted for the Elizabethan stage, including adaptations by Shakespeare. The talk will begin with the Agas Map of London online in order to show how St Paul’s was positioned in the City of London in relation to local theatres that came into being within and on the outskirts of the city. The reconstructions at the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, will show the physical environment of the cathedral proper and also a reconstruction of Peter Blayney’s (hard copy) map of the bookstores of Paul’s Cross churchyard. These reconstructions point to the fact that new printed works were often read and discussed in this locale. Such databases as EEBO-TCP and the ESTC online will also be used to confirm the popular reception of Painter’s work within the St Paul’s precinct.

Titles of extant plays will be used with titles in the Lost Plays Database to show how early modern plays were crafted, not from singular inspirations drawn from independently selected source material, but from playwrights, including Shakespeare, hearing the echoes of popular printed works specifically in the St Paul’s precinct. The relationship between popular stories and plays can be established by searching EEBO-TCP, the ESTC, and other online reference material and then cross-referencing stories with play titles. The presumed story in the lost play, ‘Cupid and Psyche’ will not show up in a reading of Painter’s table of contents, but ‘A Greek Maid’ will, if one recognizes that the story of ‘Timoclea of Thebes’ is indeed about a Greek maiden and is the probable source of ‘Greek Maid’. The methodology here is much easier to show in Powerpoint than to describe in abstract, but the base method is to fill a reconstructed public gathering site with bookshops and popular stories that echoed into successful stage plays during the early modern period. The talk will conclude that such stories as those found in Painter are not source material, per se, but well-known stories that were read and discussed in a central bookselling area and that were later cherry picked because of their apparent popular appeal to be adapted for commercial theatre events.

Along with showing how DH platforms can be collaborated, three suggestions will be made for the future of early modern digital development and scholarship. The first concerns the singular direction of DH projects and the current need to increase the interoperability between platforms. For instance the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project recreates the environment at Paul’s Cross churchyard to focus on a sermon by John Donne. It is not currently aimed to provide more information about the churchyard bookstores that the project accurately reconstructs or information about printed editions on sale in these bookstores. This problem could be solved with the inclusion of an interactive interface that would provide pop-up bubbles with information about churchyard bookshop holdings. These bookshop holdings could in turned be linked to full texts (when available) at EEBO and to publication information at the ESTC.

The second suggestion concerns the unfinished nature of these projects. EEBO-TCP is slow in development as are other projects. This subject will be mentioned only is passing as it could be the focus of an entire DH conference, one that would focus on how to manage continuous and reliable data input for open access sites.

The third suggestion is rooted in the fact that some of our greatest resources are only preserved in hard copy, with no search-ability at all or just the ‘look inside’ option at Amazon or the frustratingly narrowed options offered by Google Books. The future for digital research in the early modern period is in seeing ways to continue the development and interoperability of existing databases with interactive interfaces. We should find ways to finish and better collectivize what has been started, and to digitalize information in hard copy texts in ways more elegant than simple reproductions of the text.


[1] Bower, Richard? Apius and Virginia (London: Richard Jones, 1575). Full text: EEBO-TCP.

[2] Gosson, Stephen. Plays Confuted in Five Actions (London: Thomas Gosson, 1582). Full text:EEBO-TCP.

[3] Naso, Ovid. The XV Books of P. Ouidius Naso, entitled Metamorphosis. Trans. Arthur Golding (London: William Seres, 1567). Full text: EEBO-TCP.

[4] Painter, William. The Palace of Pleasure (London: Richard Tottell, 1566). Full text: EEBO-TCP.

[5] Shakespeare, William. The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (London: Cuthbert Burby, 1599). Full text: Internet Shakespeare Editions.

[6] Wilmot, Robert? The Tragedy of Tancred and Gismund (London: R. Robinson, 1591). Full text: EEBO-TCP.

[7] From Lost Plays Database. Ed. Roslyn L. Knutson and David McInnis (Melbourne: University of Melbourn, 2009).
Anon. ‘A Greek Maid’ (1579). Thomas Dabbs. Web. https://www.lostplays.org/index.php?title=Greek_Maid,_A.
Anon. ‘A Mask of Amazons’ (1579). (Forthcoming. See Wiggins below.)
Anon. ‘Mutius Scaevola’ (1577). Thomas Dabbs (forthcoming).
Anon. ‘The Story of Samson’ (1576). Roslyn L. Knutson. Web. https://www.lostplays.org/index.php?title=Samson. Anon. ‘Timoclea of Thebes’ (1574). John H. Astington. Web. https://www.lostplays.org/index.php?title=Timoclea_at_the_Siege_of_Thebes.

[8]Digital Renaissance Editions. Web. http://digitalrenaissance.uvic.ca.

[9] Internet Shakespeare Editions. Web. http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca

[10] Lost Plays Database. Web. https://www.lostplays.org/index.php?title=Main_Page.

[11] Map of Early Modern London (MoEML). Web. https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca.

[12] Shakeosphere. Web. https://shakeosphere.lib.uiowa.edu.

[13] Shakespeare Quartos Archive. Web. http://www.quartos.org/index.html

[14] Stow, John, A Survey of London: From the Text of 1603 in (BHO). Web. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/survey-of-london-stow/1603.

[15] The Virtual Paul’s Cross Project. Web. https://vpcp.chass.ncsu.edu.

[16] Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP). Web. http://deep.sas.upenn.edu.

[17] Early English Books Online (EEBO-TCP). Web. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebogroup.

[18] English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Web. http://estc.bl.uk.

[19] Hamnet: Folger Library Catalog. Web. http://shakespeare.folger.edu.

[20] Records of Early English Drama (REED). Web. http://reed.utoronto.ca.

[21] Early Modern Digital Humanities: Japan (EMDH: Japan). ‘Master List of Resources.’ comp. John Yamamoto-Wilson Web. http://emdhjapan.blogspot.jp/2014/03/dh-databaselinks.html.

[22] Dabbs, Thomas. ‘Paul’s Cross and the Dramatic Echoes of Early-Elizabethan Print’ in Paul’s Cross and the Culture of Persuasion in England, 1520-1640. Ed. Torrance Kirby and P. G. Stanwood (Leiden: Brill, 2014).

[23] Gurr, Andrew. Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987; rpt. 2004).

[24] Morrissey, Mary. Politics and the Paul’s Cross Sermons, 1558-1642 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011).

[25] Shakespeare, William, Romeo and Juliet ed. René Weis (London: Arden, 2012).

[26] Wiggins, Martin. British Drama 1533-1642: A Catalogue. Vol. II and Vol. III (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012).

[27] Blayney, Peter M.W. The Bookshops in Paul’s Cross Churchyard. (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1990).

[28] MacLure, Millar. The Paul’s Cross Sermons (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1958).

[29] Schofield, John. St Paul’s Cathedral before Wren (Swindon: English Heritage, 2011).

[30] St Paul’s. The Cathedral Church of London:604-2004. Ed. Derek Keene, Arthur Burns, and Andrew Saint (New Haven: Yale UP, 2004).