This page offers a quick guide to interacting with and understanding the information presented in the London Stage Database. For a fuller account of the data's history and limitations, as well as the project as a whole, visit our About page.
Users less familiar with English theater of the long eighteenth century (1660-1800) may run across a few unfamiliar words in using the site. Here is a brief glossary of some of the most frequently used terms:
- Mainpiece: The main play, usually five acts long, that was given top billing for an evening at the theater. It was often followed by at least one afterpiece, and interspersed with a variety of musical pieces, dances, monologues, and/or entertainments between the acts.
- Afterpiece: A shorter (often one- or two-act) dramatic piece meant to be performed after the mainpiece; usually comical or farcical in nature.
- Entertainment: An interlude or other performance piece that might feature in an evening at the theater. Popular forms of entertainment throughout the century included not only singing, dancing, and musical performances, but also acrobatics, imitations or impersonations, and acts featuring trained animals.
- Pantomime: An English form of performance, sometimes referred to as "Harlequinade," that was adapted from the Italian commedia dell'arte tradition and featured stock characters like Harlequin, Columbine, Scaramouche, and Pantaloon. These performances incorporated dance, gesture, slapstick physical comedy, elaborate scenery, and special effects.
- Prologue/Epilogue: A short framing piece, usually in poetic verse, that preceded (prologue) or followed (epilogue) the mainpiece. These pieces could be performed by actors from the play either in character or as themselves, or by other conventional stage figures. Some were written as companion pieces for specific plays, while others were more general and could accompany a variety of plays. Prologues and epilogues alike were most commonly spoken on the first few nights of a new play's run and attempted to win the audience's support and applause for the new offering.
- Benefit: A performance for which the profits would be assigned to a specific actor, playwright, or charitable cause. Playwrights' benefits typically took place every third night of the first run of a new play; a play that lasted six or nine consecutive nights was considered successful. Star actors' contracts usually included the right to one or more benefit nights, usually in the spring, which made up a significant portion of their earnings for the year.
- Repertory: During this period, the major London playhouses were repertory theaters. This means that they had a "stock" of dozens of plays that they performed in rotation throughout a theatrical season. The repertory system required that actors have their parts for numerous scripts memorized and ready to go on short notice.
- Restoration: The return of the monarch Charles II to the English throne in 1660 following the English civil wars. The Restoration is considered an important event in English theatrical history because King Charles reopened the public theaters in London, which had been closed since 1642, and decreed that women could now perform on the public stage—a practice that previously had been forbidden in England.
- Season: At this time, the London theaters operated on a seasonal basis, closing during the summer months when many well-off Londoners left the city for vacation. Companies usually began the performance season in late summer or early fall and continued through the spring of the following year, although different theaters might begin and end their seasons on different dates. Importantly, certain kinds of performance (especially puppet shows) continued at the summer fairs, and the companies might also use the summer months to train up young actors.
- Account books: In addition to information from printed advertisements for plays and from playgoers' diaries, the editors of The London Stage, 1660-1800 rely on the financial records kept by the treasurers at the major theaters. Where available, total box office receipts for an evening are often listed in pounds, shillings, and pence (e.g. £57 14s. 6d.) in the "Comment" for an event. For entries from Part 5 (1776-1800), additional numbers sometimes follow in parentheses, breaking down the total revenue into income from different types of tickets: "First Account" tickets sold to people who were in the house at the rise of the curtain; "Half Price" or "Second Account" tickets sold at reduced prices for admission after the conclusion of the third act; and "After-Money," income from late-comers after the First and Second Accounts for the evening had already been entered. For entries taken from Part 5, events at Drury Lane list the total receipts first, followed by these three categories; in the same volume, for events at Covent Garden, the total receipts are listed first, followed by the sum of First Account and Half Price tickets, followed by the After-Money. So, for example, if the comment for a performance at Drury Lane reads "Receipts £174 7s. 6d. (132/8/0; 36/2/6; 5/17/0)," it means that the theater took in £132 8s. for full-price admissions to the entire evening's entertainment, £36 2s. 6d. for half-price tickets to everything after the third act of the mainpiece, and £5 17s. in reduced-price tickets for very late admissions to the show.
Until September 1752, England was on the Julian calendar, while most of Europe adhered to the Gregorian calendar we use today. Under the Julian calendar, the new year began on March 25. In addition, the two systems calculate leap years differently, so that the Julian calendar falls a bit further behind the Gregorian each year. In 1752, when England switched calendars, it had to skip forward 11 days to catch up to its neighbors; by the time countries like Russia and Greece made the switch in the early twentieth century, they had to adjust by 13 days. So, on the day that a person in England would have dated a letter 1 January 1660, a person in France would have dated a letter 11 January 1661. Sometimes, historians will record both the "Old Style" (Julian) and "New Style" (Gregorian) dates, writing, for example "10/21 January 1665/66" or "12/23 October 1703."
In The London Stage, 1660-1800, the Old Style month and day of a performance are retained, but the year is assumed to begin on January 1, as in the New Style. Consequently, a performance with a full Old/New Style date of "10/21 January 1665/66" is recorded as taking place on "10 January 1666." The London Stage Database replicates the dates from the reference books. Users wishing to compare performance offerings in England with those in other countries should be aware of these dating issues and make the appropriate conversions.
For the sake of concision, the editors of The London Stage, 1660-1800 used what they called a "ladder" system to abbreviate cast lists, which were often the lengthiest part of a performance entry. If the cast listed in the playbills and newspaper advertisements for a particular play stays fairly consistent over the course of a season, it is reproduced in full the first time it appears with that cast, and subsequent performances of the same play by the same company record the cast following the syntax "As [date], but [substitutions, if any]." So, for example, a performance of The Busy Body at Drury Lane on 31 May 1739 is recorded "THE BUSY BODY. As 28 Dec. 1738, but Whisper-Winstone." The user of the reference book can then turn to the entry for The Busy Body at Drury Lane on 28 December 1738 and read the cast list for that date: "As 23 Sept., but Marplot-Macklin; Whisper-Woodward." Turning back to September, the reader finds a full cast list: "Marplot-Cibber; Sir George-Mills; Sir Francis-Griffin; Miranda-Mrs Clive; Sir Jealous-Turbutt; Charles-Wright; Whisper-Macklin; Isabinda-Mrs Mills; Patch-Mrs Pritchard; Scentwell-Mrs Bennet." Making the appropriate substitutions, the reader can infer that the cast list advertised for the December performance was "Marplot-Macklin; Sir George-Mills; Sir Francis-Griffin; Miranda-Mrs Clive; Sir Jealous-Turbutt; Charles-Wright; Whisper-Woodward; Isabinda-Mrs Mills; Patch-Mrs Pritchard; Scentwell-Mrs Bennet," and that for the May performance it was "Marplot-Macklin; Sir George - Mills; Sir Francis - Griffin; Miranda - Mrs Clive; Sir Jealous - Turbutt; Charles - Wright; Whisper-Winstone; Isabinda - Mrs Mills; Patch - Mrs Pritchard; Scentwell - Mrs Bennet." Tracing these ladder cast lists without the aid of a database can be painstaking work if several substitutions are made over a series of performances.
The London Stage Database attempts to reconstruct the cast list wherever the "as [date]" syntax occurs for a mainpiece or afterpiece. However, it ignores entries that follow other patterns. For example, the editors sometimes provide notes about an advertised cast list (or the lack thereof) and direct readers to "see [date]." This is an invitation to comparison; it represents the editors' conjecture that these two dates' cast lists bear some kind of relation. It does not, however, consistently represent a correspondence between advertised casts in the same way that the "as [date]" syntax does, so we have chosen not to attempt cast lists for these "see [date]" entries.
Note that the program that reconstructs "as [date]" cast lists ignores the roles of Prologue and Epilogue. Because these short pieces were often occasional and might only be spoken at initial performances of a play (or as reflections on special events, like an author or actor benefit), they are not assumed to carry forward through subsequent performances in the same way that other roles do.
Today we think about authorship a bit differently than people did in the long eighteenth century. While we think of playwrights as having a kind of ownership over their dramatic works, this wasn't always the case; sometimes, scripts were considered the property of the playing company that bought them, and the author's name wasn't always known or advertised to the viewing public. Audiences were much more interested in knowing which star actors would be performing in a play than they were in knowing who wrote it. We might compare this to movie posters today, which are more likely to name celebrity actors than screenplay writers.
At the same time, it was not uncommon to adapt and revive old plays, sometimes in radical ways, and to continue marketing them under the name of the source author—especially if the source author was someone famous like William Shakespeare or John Fletcher. The London Stage, 1660-1800 doesn't always make it clear which version of a play is being performed on a given night, nor is it always possible to know.
For these reasons, a straightforward "author" search returning performances of plays known to be by a given author would be ill-suited to the performance culture of the period. In the London Stage Database, searching for an author will return performances of plays with the same title as those we know to be by that author, as well as performances of adaptations and related plays. Searching for "Shakespeare" will turn up performances of William Davenant and John Dryden’s 1670 operatic spectacle The Tempest, or, the Enchanted Island; Nahum Tate’s 1681 adaptation of King Lear that gave the tragedy a happy ending; and David Garrick’s 1754 farce Catherine and Petruchio, which was based on The Taming of the Shrew. If you click through to a specific event and scroll to the mainpiece or afterpiece in question, you may find a list of "Related Works" that includes one or more plays related to the title performed on the evening in question. This feature may help you identify a list of several potential candidates for the performance text, or it may help you identify sources for and adaptations of the play we know was performed that night.
It is important to note that the attribution of "related works" to "authors" is ongoing; this data was not present in the recovered London Stage Information Bank, and its collection is still a work in progress by the members of the London Stage Database team.
Beginning in May 2021, the London Stage Database is optimized using an open-source full-text search engine called Sphinx. (From July 2019 to May 2021, searches were conducted entirely using the database programming language SQL (Structured Query Language); that earier search ecosystem is preserved under "Advanced Search (Legacy).") This section of the user guide offers a few tips for making the most of your searches.
- Search results are never case-sensitive in the London Stage Database. A keyword search for "dryden", "Dryden", or "DRYDEN" will return the same results. Special characters, such as hyphens and apostrophes, are ignored, in order to accommodate the inconsistent punctuation of entries in The London Stage, 1660-1800 and the London Stage Information Bank.
- To search for an exact word or phrase, you can place it in quotation marks, "like this." If you enter a multi-word search term without quotation marks, our algorithm will return entries that include any of the words in your phrase. If you enter "Marriage a la Mode" with quotation marks, you will only get hits for that play, but they will include entries in which the title is spelled "Marriage a la Mode" as well as entries in which the title is spelled "Marriage a-la-Mode." If you enter the same term without quotation marks, you will also get hits for performances of The Man of Mode, for example, because the two titles share the word "Mode." Search results can be filtered by relevance on the results page, if desired, to prioritize more exact matches with the terms you entered.
- Boolean searching is possible for actors and for roles. To search for two or more actors who appear together in a single event, click the "+" button by the actor search box, and select the "AND" operation from the drop-down menu. This search will return events in which both actors appear together in the same play, as well as events in which Actor A appears in one performance (for example, the mainpiece) and Actor B appears in another (for example, the afterpiece). To search for events containing performances featuring either Actor A or Actor B, select the "OR" operation. Note that entering the words "AND" or "OR" into any of the search boxes will not trigger a boolean search.
On the Results page, you have the option to apply a number of filters, which correspond to the options on the Advanced Search page. These filters can help you narrow down your results. For example, if you search for all performances of "The Beggar's Opera," you can then use the date filter to limit your results to performances within a particular season or year. Entering dates into the search filters will trigger a new search that retains your original query for performances of "The Beggar's Opera;" it will return the same results as if you had searched for the title and dates all at once from the Advanced Search page. If, however, you enter new terms into a filter that corresponds to one of your previous search fields, you will overwrite your old query. For example, if you search for performances of "The Beggar's Opera" from the Advanced Search page, but then you filter by Performance Title = "Three Hours after Marriage," you will get the same results as if you had simply searched for "Three Hours after Marriage" from the Advanced Search page. Note that filters applied to the results of legacy searches will keep the user within the legacy search ecosystem, while filters applied to results arrived at from the main keyword or advanced search pages will use the faster Sphinx search engine.
At the top left of the search results page appears a link that reads "Toggle Sphinx Query." Click this link to view the way that your search was translated into SphinxQL (Sphinx's Query Language, similar to SQL or Structured Query Language) in order to generate the results that you see. Relational databases like the London Stage Database are organized as a series of tables (imagine Excel spreadsheets) with fields (imagine the column labels within those spreadsheets). For example, the London Stage Database has a table called "Events," and within that table, it has a field called "EventDate" that holds the date for each event. When you perform a legacy search, your parameters are transformed into a series of commands that create links and interactions among our different tables (Events, Performances, Theatre, etc.). When you perform a search from the main keyword or advanced search pages, which use the Sphinx full text search server, your terms are instead searched against an index of the same relational database, allowing for much faster results.
Export and Visualization
Near the top of the search results page, you have the option to export your results in a variety of formats:
- CSV: Comma Separated Values, a tabular data file format in which values are delimited using the comma character
- XML: eXtensible Markup Language, a markup language similar to HTML. Data is represented as text wrapped within tags
You can use any of these file formats to analyze and visualize the results that interest you. All of these file types are designed to be human-readable and can be opened in a text editor, such as Notepad or TextEdit. XML and JSON are best equipped for storing relational data of the kind used in the London Stage Database, so exporting to and using one of these file formats will allow you to retain, access, and work with the most information from your results. CSV files are easier for users with less technical training to work with, as they can be opened and manipulated in spreadsheet software like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. However, CSV files are tabular rather than relational, so they do not represent the complexity of the data objects and relations as fully.
Data for individual events can be exported from the relevant Event page.