The Social Network of Early English Drama: A Digital Humanities Lesson Plan

By Adam Rzepka

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s recently launched Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama (DA) provides searchable, encoded, digital editions of 403 English plays first staged in London between1576 and 1642. A central task for participants at the Folger’s 2016 summer workshop “Beyond Access: Early Modern Digital Texts in the Classroom” was to devise pedagogical uses for the Digital Anthology. Our team focused on the metadata that the editors of the anthology attached to each play—its chronology, author, printer, publisher, and the theater company that initially staged it—in order to foreground an aspect of these dramas that is crucial yet very difficult to teach at the undergraduate level: the social network in which they took shape, simultaneously, as performances and texts.

In this lesson plan, students use metadata about plays in the DA to construct network models linking the producers and performers of play texts. Students conduct research into the communities that their models map, and use this research to draft arguments for in interpretation of the play (whether a printed edition or a staged production) that in some way reflects the way it took shape in those communities.


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