Press Releases

Theatre and Drama in Shakespeare's Age Goes Digital – University of Reading

Release Date : 27 November 2009

piece of the plot of the seven deadly sins

The first stage of a project aiming to create the world's single most important digital archive on early modern English theatre has been completed.

Experts from King's College London and the University of Reading are currently making the largest collection of material on professional theatre and dramatic performance in the age of Shakespeare, available online.

From 25 November fascinating and extremely rare items will be available to view free at  These include the only surviving records of theatre box office receipts for any play by Shakespeare, and the 1600 contract to build the Fortune Theatre in London, listing the layout and design of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare's company performed.

The original collection, housed at Dulwich College Archive in London, holds thousands of pages of manuscripts relating to its founder, the celebrated and eminent actor and entrepreneur Edward Alleyn (1566-1626) and of his father-in-law Philip Henslowe (d. 1616), the most successful theatre impresario of the age.

The Henslowe-Alleyn Project, which began in 2004, has two objectives. Firstly, to protect and conserve the increasingly fragile manuscripts in Dulwich College, and, secondly, to make their fascinating contents freely and more widely available in an electronic format.

Professor Grace Ioppolo from the University of Reading is the Founder and Director of this Project. She said: "Most of what historians know about the invention of the English professional theatre, both as a financial enterprise and artistic endeavour, comes from the evidence in the Henslowe and Alleyn papers. In addition to being theatre entrepreneurs, Henslowe and Alleyn were appointed by King James I to stage such popular blood sports as bull-and bear-baiting at the Bear Garden and at the royal palaces of Whitehall and Greenwich. So, in effect, Henslowe and Alleyn helped to invent both professional theatre and professional sports in England.

"This website and electronic archive were not primarily designed to suit the needs of specialist scholars but to enrich and enhance the study of all those interested in early modern English drama and theatre and social history. We hope that the use of these manuscripts in electronic and digital form will not be confined to students and scholars but to a wide-ranging and ever-changing community of readers in a variety of ways."

The Project's Technical Manager, Paul Vetch, from King's College's Centre for Computing in the Humanities (CCH) said: "CCH has been involved in the Henslowe-Alleyn project since 2006, and has provided secure storage for this substantial image archive in addition to developing a web-based resource allowing the archive to be seen and explored by the public for the first time.
"CCH's work has included the development of an online catalogue which allows users to easily navigate the images, and to view them at a very high resolution. This is sufficient to allow detailed palaeographical study better than could be achieved with the naked eye.  CCH has also supported the development and publication of online contextual materials and essays by leading scholars in the field, which illustrate the importance of the collection."

For images and all University of Reading media enquiries please contact James Barr, Press Officer tel. 0118 378 7115 or email">>

For all King's College media enquiries please contact Alison Denyer, Senior Communications Manager, tel 020 78483073 or email

For futher information on the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project contact
Prof. Grace Ioppolo, University of Reading,  0790 3868221 or email or Mr Paul Vetch, Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Calista Lucy is available to show the original documents at Dulwich College - contact 020 8299 9201         
The Henslowe-Alleyn Project has been graciously supported by grants from The Leverhulme Trust, The British Academy, The Thriplow Charitable Trust, The Pilgrim Trust, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Folger Shakepeare Library, the British and American Bibliographical Societies, and The University of Reading.
Highlights of the digital archive include:
All 476 pages of Henslowe's famous 'Diary', the most important record of 16th and 17th century English professional theatre production and performance, together with hundreds of other pages of correspondence, receipts, deeds, bonds and contracts between Henslowe and Alleyn and playwrights, actors, and theatrical entrepreneurs and censors but leading political, religious and social leaders, including
• The only surviving records of theatre box office receipts for any play by Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus, Henry VI) and Marlowe (Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine)
• The most complete set of information about the commissioning of over 325 professional plays, most of which do not survive and are not recorded anywhere else
• Payments to such playwrights as Jonson and Middleton for play performances at court for Queen Elizabeth I or King James I
• The only surviving Elizabethan actor's 'part' or script, for the title role of Orlando Furioso, performed by Alleyn and containing his own annotations
• Unique costume list ('Clokes', 'Antik Sutes', 'French Hose') in Alleyn's hand
• The 'plot' or backstage outline of the play The Seven Deadly Sins, Part II, one of only four plots of this age known to survive in their entirety
• The 1600 contract to build the Fortune Theatre in London, including the  layout and design of the Globe Theatre where Shakespeare's company performed
• The 1587 deed of partnership for the Rose Theatre on London's Southbank, the remains of which were recently excavated by leading archaeologists
• The 1616 Foundation Deed for Dulwich College, signed by poet Sir Francis Bacon and by Inigo Jones, the most renowned theatre and scenic designer of the age
• A charming 1593 letter from Alleyn to his first wife Joan ('my good sweet mouse') telling her to strew 'rue and herb of grace' to guard against plague
• Documents which virtually map several London neighbourhoods (Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, and Shoreditch) later destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666.
• A 1593 Petition from the union of Thames 'watermen' bewailing the loss of business when playhouses on the Southbank were closed due to plague
• A 1598 account of Ben Jonson's slaying of Gabriel Spencer in a duel in Hoxton
• Letters in 1616-17 from Stephen Gosson, the suppposed scourge of the stage and notorious author of tracts against acting, pledging his admiration to the actor Alleyn.
• Alleyn's 1619 notes of viewing Queen Anne's hearse at Somerset House and her funeral procession through London
• The exact dates on which Alleyn heard John Donne, Dean of St Paul's and celebrated poet, preach at Camberwell, and a draft of Alleyn's 1623 letter to an angry Donne, whose beloved daughter Constance, aged 20, had wed Alleyn, aged 57
• Remarkably detailed lists of the precise costs of daily travel to all parts of London, of exotic food and drink, of all manner of clothing ('black velvet jerkins', 'red petticoats', 'beaver hats'), and of books, home remedies and medicines
• Alleyn's property development of what is now Dulwich Village
This dynamic electronic archive is an invaluable and unique contribution of English culture and heritage that will enrich and enhance the study of anyone interested in early modern culture, society and history.
Project Photographer: Dr David Cooper (    
Advisory Board: Peter Beal (University of London), Julian Bows her (Museum of London), S. P. Cerasano (Colgate University), R. A. Foakes (UCLA), John Lavagnino (King's College London), Calista Lucy and Jan Piggott (Dulwich College), and H. R. Woudhuysen (University College London).


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