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A Project in Search of a Form

2010 December 4

About eight months ago, as I was finishing work on the chapter in my dissertation on Richard Tarlton and Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, I started wondering about how I could pursue my fascination with this figure outside of the context of the dissertation project. Many have written about Tarlton, but there is such a dearth of factual information about him that a traditional biography eludes most. In addition, his liminal position in early modern English culture and society – crossing theatre and print, embraced by the poor and the rich – provided an interesting opportunity to question traditional views about the hierarchy of English society at the time.

My background in digital humanities and new media led me to consider a multimodal project that would present a dynamic biography of Tarlton that would be as malleable as the man, one ultimately offering a collaboration among scholars and students interested in early modern theatre history and print and popular culture.

While I continue to think about how this project will evolve, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to experiment with a wiki-based format. The flexibility, ease of publication, and potential for a variety of forms of collaboration suggested that this platform would at least allow me to *start* the project and explore the possibilities of a Tarlton project incorporating biographical detail, documentation of theatrical performance, published references (both by and about the man), and anecdotal information about his impact on Elizabethan and Jacobean England. At the same time, wikis appear to have a degree of stability, and frankly I did not relish the idea of writing all of this in a language or with tags that could easily vanish tomorrow.

The project could very well take some time. I have no idea how long. I have identified some short-term milestones for myself that will allow me to achieve what I envision as a first phase of research and writing, assist me in some larger research projects with which I am associated, and keep me sane in the process. As of now, I identify these milestones as follows:

  • Tarlton’s Jests: context, publishing information, and digital edition with glosses and notes.
  • Tarlton biography: anecdotal and documentary.
  • Tarlton and the Queen’s Men: REED documents and mapping of performance routes, linked with applicable references in the Jests. Also, I will consider replicating The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London script reference to Tarlton here.
  • Tarlton in print: this section will include Tarlton’s own printed ballads, as well as pieces ascribed to him (falsely) and those published about him posthumously. This area will inevitably swing back to Tarlton’s Jests but will rely heavily on Halliwell-Phillips and Nunzeger, as well as Fuller.
  • Contextual references to the people who knew him and wrote about him, his colleagues and peers, the places he performed in and those he performed for.

My goal is to complete – or at least have a significant amount of content built for the first three bulleted areas during this winter and spring (2011). Once I feel I have created a representative sample of content and refined the look and feel of the project to the point where it can be considered an earlier “beta”, I will begin to disseminate it to a select group for comments, feedback, and perhaps participation.

These blog posts will document my progress in the weeks and months to come.

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