Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"If I Could Not Liu by It & Be Honest": Putting the Henslowe-Alleyn Manuscript Archive Online

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

"If I Could Not Liu by It & Be Honest": Putting the Henslowe-Alleyn Manuscript Archive Online

Article excerpt

WITH his founding of Dulwich College in 1619, along with his earlier establishment of Dulwich College's Chapel and Almshouses, the eminent actor Edward Alleyn (1566-1626) established a charity to ensure his legacy for generations to come. Yet ironically it is through his collection of personal and professional papers, and not his buildings, that Alleyn has come to be revered and remembered for theatre historians and early modern drama scholars. After his death on November 25, 1626, he left intact a collection of hundreds of pages of his papers and those of his father-in-law, the theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe (d. 1616), relating to a variety of their businesses, including property development throughout London and southern and northern England and venture capitalism. However, Alleyn and Henslowe also left intact at least two thousand pages of manuscripts, including letters patent, leases, deeds, bills, receipts, correspondence, and account- and memorandum-books, relating to their theatrical enterprises. In insisting in his will that his statutes and other papers remain in perpetuity at Dulwich College, Alleyn not only ensured their survival for four centuries but recognized that his theatrical manuscripts constituted the first theatre history archive in England. That these manuscripts managed, largely, to stay together for so long makes it the single most important collection on early modern English theatrical performance and production in the world.

That Alleyn almost certainly intended to have generations of scholars use his and Henslowe's papers at the College is supported by the bequest of William Cartwright the younger in 1686. According to the terms of Cartwright's will, his estate included "about 100 Manu Scripts of plaies" which along with some printed quartos, folios, and octavos had been appraised by William Brook and Rowland Reynolds for [pounds sterling]37 15s in 1686 and were to be left to Dulwich College. The will also stipulated that numerous actors' portraits were to be bequeathed to Dulwich College. Cartwright's pictures, of course, helped form the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The "100 manuscripts of plays" do not appear to be among the items, including two Shakespeare plays and some pewter jugs, "purloined" by Cartwright's servants at his death; these servants were later arrested and some items were returned. (1) There is, in fact, an incomplete copy of the First Folio at Dulwich, with inscriptions in Cart-wright's handwriting. As the son of Alleyn's close friend and colleague William Cartwright Senior, the younger Cartwright respected and admired, and was probably very grateful to, the man who helped his father succeed financially in investing in acting companies and theatres. Thus the younger Cart-wright's donation of actors' portraits, printed books and play manuscripts would enhance a theatrical archive that had its roots in Henslowe's and Alleyn's individual and joint papers.

Beginning at least in the late eighteenth century and continuing for the next century, bibliophiles, collectors, actors, and even Shakespearean editors, including David Garrick, Edmond Malone, John Payne Collier, and John Orchard HalliweH-Phillips, among others, borrowed, and sometimes did not return, manuscripts, notably Henslowe's "Diary" from Alleyn's Papers at Dulwich. During this time, some of the "Diary's" pages were removed or otherwise destroyed, and fragments have since been sold or auctioned and are now at the British Library, Bodleian Library, Belvoir Castle, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. In the early nineteenth century, staff at Dulwich successfully reclaimed the play The Telltale and the plot of The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins from an auction, but over the years many other items were dispersed and have not yet been definitively identified, including the other ninety-nine play manuscripts bequeathed to the College by Cartwright.

For over two hundred and fifty years, most of the Alleyn Papers remained unbound and stored in the chest in which they had lain since the founding of the College in 1619. …

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