The Marlowe Society
07 February 2010

Henslowe and Alleyn Go Digital

The Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project brings the Dulwich College archive online.

There was exciting news at the end of January for all interested in the history of early modern theatre when the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project was launched online. The result of many years painstaking work, the project is making available via the medium of the internet thousands of digitised manuscript pages from the rich, historic Archive at Dulwich College, founded by the famous actor Edward Alleyn (1566-1626), who was also, of course, closely linked to Marlowe's career.

The Archive includes the famous Henslowe's Diary, a unique and invaluable historical document which is in fact more accurately described as an account book, documenting the business dealings between 1592 and 1597 of Philip Henslowe, proprietor of Bankside's first theatre, The Rose. There is however a vast array of further fascinating material contained in the archive, relating both to Henslowe and Alleyn's private affairs and other business activities, as well as to their theatrical business interests. All of the digitised manuscripts available in this online project are in the latter category, and include Alleyn's own diary (1617-1622) and memorandum book (1594-1616), legal documents relating to both The Rose and Fortune theatres, personal and business correspondence of both men, theatrical papers of Alleyn, as well as a wide range of theatrical artefacts (including the 'platt' of The Second Part of The Seven Deadly Sins, Alleyn's 'part' of Orlando in Robert Greene's Orlando Furioso, and a manuscript version of the anonymous play, The Telltale).

Edward Alleyn (1566-1626)
Edward Alleyn (1566-1626)
Actor, joint playhouse owner with Henslowe, and founder of the College of God's Gift at Dulwich.

The project was founded and has been directed by Grace Ioppolo, Professor of Shakespearean and Early Modern Drama at the University of Reading. She states the purpose of the project to be twofold: "first to protect and conserve these increasingly fragile documents, and, second, to make their contents much more widely available in a free electronic archive and website, not only to specialist scholars, but to all those interested in early modern English drama and theatre history" as well as many other areas of historical study. Another vital contributor was David Cooper, whose expertise producing high resolution images of fragile books and manuscripts was acquired in a variety of similar projects, including one at St Paul's Cathedral. The project has also benefitted from an Advisory Board of highly respected academics and experts in the field, including Professor R.A. Foakes (joint author of the landmark edition of Henslowe's Diary in 1961), Julian Bowsher (who as a member of the Museum of London Archaeology Service has been involved in the excavation of various theatre sites, including The Rose), and Jan Piggott (former Keeper of the Archives at Dulwich College).

The origins of this unique collection of theatrical documents arose from the close business and personal relationship between the two men. Edward Alleyn was lauded as one of the greatest actor of the 1580's (with Worcester's Men) and 1590's (as the leading actor in the Lord Admiral's Men), renowned as a tragedian with a powerful and charismatic style of delivery, founded in no small part by his portrayal of Marlowe's Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus (and in all likelihood Barabas too). He was thus already one of the star performers at The Rose when he married Philip Henslowe's step-daughter Joan Woodward in October 1592. This further cemented the relationship between the two men, who subsequently embarked on a number of business ventures together. Alleyn managed The Rose theatre, and later with Henslowe jointly owned The Fortune and Hope playhouses, as well as the Bear Garden. When Henslowe died in 1616, his papers were left with Alleyn, whose plans to build the College of God's Gift in Dulwich were already well advanced. These documents together with many of Alleyn's own papers were stored in a large chest once the College had opened in 1619, and lay there in their unbound state for over 250 years.

In this way the Henslowe-Alleyn papers were preserved, and it was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that Shakespearean scholars such as Edmond Malone and J.P. Collier (the notorious forger) began to borrow the volume containing Henslowe's Diary from the College library. Inevitably pages from the Diary and other important documents began to go missing or were damaged. Staff at the college were able to retrieve a few of the lost documents, such as reclaiming the Seven Deadly Sins plot and The Telltale manuscript from an impending auction, but it was not until the 1870's that the College Governors finally recruited George Warner from the British Museum to catalogue the manuscripts. Warner's work, and further discoveries by Francis Bickley, both resulted in published catalogues of the Dulwich collection in 1881 and 1903. Now, those catalogues provide the framework for this project's digital publication.

Edward Alleyn (1566-1626)
The Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project website at:

There are approximately 2,200 manuscript pages that have been digitised and made available online for research purposes. For obvious copyright reasons, the images cannot be downloaded. But visitors to the website can access all the digitised images free of charge using the in-built 'Zoomify' tool. As the name implies, the tool enables website visitors to zoom in or out, as well as navigating to different areas of a manuscript page image, and a very high level of resolution has been achieved. The only requirement is that your web browser has the Adobe Shockwave plug-in installed - many will already have this, but you will be prompted to install it if not. The site works fine in different browsers as you would expect, for example Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

At this preliminary stage of the project, the manuscript images are not accompanied by transcripts, so some knowledge of contemporary calligraphy is needed in places to decipher the text. The catalogue section can be used to find a specific document within one of the nine manuscript sets and two muniment series comprising the digital archive. Having navigated to a particular document, the reader can then move through each digitised page image comprising the document, using the 'next' and 'previous' buttons.

The website hints at plans to provide transcripts in the future, but in the meantime there are anyway a series of excellent "Digital Essays" providing expert analysis and comment on a representative sample of the documents, including some of the most notable ones. Professor S.P. Cerasano provides brief guides to both the digitised pages of Henslowe's Diary and an Inventory of Theatrical Apparel in Alleyn's handwriting, as well contributing the longest essay in the series together with Julian Bowsher in which the pair discuss The Deed of Partnership in the Rose Theatre from 1587. Professor Foakes provides some background on the Seven Deadly Sins' "platt", and another essay on Alleyn's "Part" in Orlando Furioso. A fascinating example of the hidden gems contained in the archive is a set of correspondence between playwright Robert Daborne and Henslowe in 1613-14, and accompanying essays by Professor Ioppolo concentrating on a couple of these letters (memorandum and letter) reveal what they can tell us about both the working practices of the playwright and the financial arrangements between Henslowe and his writers. For example, there is clear evidence that the playwright would read a new play to the company's actors, suggesting a more collaborative working arrangement. Another essay by Peter Beal includes the transcripts of the fair copies of two poems written out by Ben Jonson to his friend Alleyn.

These samples give just a flavour of the extensive variety of documents contained in this treasure trove of dramatic history. We must all be extremely grateful to Professor Ioppolo and her team for their labours to make these documents freely available to such a wide audience. This fascinating archive is also published at a time when there is renewed hope of raising the funds necessary to excavate the remaining foundations of The Rose Theatre on Bankside. What is certain is that the Henslowe-Alleyn Archive together with the work already undertaken at the site of The Rose provide a quite unique and remarkably vivid insight into the day-to-day workings and theatrical environment in which Christopher Marlowe made his name between 1587 and 1593.

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