Richard Brome Online: Researchers bring historical work into the digital age

Today, March 1st 2010, marks the launch of a unique online edition of the collected plays of dramatist, Richard Brome, which marks the culmination of a four-year project directed by researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Sheffield. The project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was devised by Richard Cave, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway and completed under his General Editorship by an international team of nine editors.

The aim behind the project was to provide wide-spread access to Brome’s work for scholars, theatre practitioners, and members of the public alike. Brome’s plays, which have not appeared in a complete edition since 1873, are now made available through the fully-searchable website which was the creation of HRI Digital at the Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield.

Brome, one-time secretary and assistant to Ben Jonson, wrote numerous comedies in a range of styles that were popular from the late 1620s until the closing of the theatres in 1642. Sixteen of these (fifteen exclusively by him, and one written in collaboration with Thomas Heywood) saw print in the seventeenth century. Till now they have not been reissued in a scholarly collected edition, though several plays have been individually edited. Each play is offered in Richard Brome Online as a period text and in an annotated, modernised version and is accompanied by both a critical and a textual introduction; there is a full glossary, bibliography, stage history and search engine. Most of the material contained in the site is printable; and access is free.

Two highly innovatory features of the edition are a result of the online format. Both period and modernised texts can be viewed independently or summoned on screen side-by-side for comparative reading/viewing. Uniquely, the annotations to the plays give access to a wealth of extracts explored in workshop by 22 professional actors, drawn chiefly from the alumni lists of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe. More than 30 hours of such performance work is included on the site, divided into 640 episodes illustrating the theatricality and stageability of the plays.

Professor Cave observed: “Working with actors in the editing process was, for the editorial panel, one of the most exciting aspects of the collaboration. In our discussions together around meanings, tone, actor-audience relations or characterisation, the actors’ contributions were fresh, informed, exploratory, and full of the insights that come only from their particular kinds of experience.”

“Editors and actors developed a profound respect for Brome’s artistry as they examined the plays together in workshops that were designed to give the texts a theatrical life and dynamic. Repeatedly the actors questioned why Brome’s comedies are not seen more regularly on our stages. Richard Brome Online is designed to make Brome’s work better known in the hope of restoring the plays to our current repertory,” he added.

To view the online edition visit: http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/brome