The Tarlton Project: Building a Better Digital Edition with REED

The digital archive was one of the first public-facing examples of how humanities computing could transform humanities research through electronic publication.[1] Definitions for what comprises a digital edition - or, more inclusively, a digital resource - as well as how such a project should be approached and by whom, continue to challenge us. The need to expand the scope of the scholarly edition enhances the research potential of the textual and contextual analysis of a corpus or collection such as the Internet Shakespeare Editions or the Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. At the same time the advantage of a resource is the provision for significant and otherwise unmanageable documentary materials and bibliographical listings in the form of a searchable database, such as the Orlando Project or the Blake Archive. Both of these approaches suggest ways in which to readdress the traditional canon so as to include the works of historical figures or peripheral literary forms that otherwise get short shrift in traditional publication avenues.

Certainly these editions and collections - whether they involve information related to a particular author, a school of artists or a literary genre or period - refashion conceptions of scholarly presentation that provide the humanities community with a depth and breadth of critical analysis otherwise unachievable.[2] And yet the reception of these works reveals concerns about rigorous scholarship, the role these projects play in larger research interests - for the individual scholar as well as for the research team - and the maintenance of these enterprises over time. This is certainly not the first essay to encourage reflection of and attention to matters related to our efforts in harnessing digital methods for enhancing humanities research. Such questions are, nevertheless, critical to the scholar embarking on a new born-digital research endeavor and worth examining here.

First, we must take into account the transition of materials from one software platform or storage device to the next.[3] Omeka may be a solution for the presentation of archival material today, but the pace of digital tool development all but ensures that it will be replaced by another platform within a few years. Wikis offer a means for expansive and democratic collaboration, but their shortcomings in terms of editorial control and attribution signal the need for a more sophisticated approach. Perhaps most pertinent to the work being done by editors of scholarly digital editions is the competition between proponents of XML and HTML5 about which is the more proactive encoding environment as we move forward into the next generation of scholarly online publication.

A particular research artifact that expands and evolves over many years requires maintenance and upkeep. The advent of the semantic web obviates more traditional proprietary approaches to data management but requires that we focus on new ideas of sustainability. Even as humanities computing tools become more user-friendly and therefore effectively bridge the divide between traditional and digital humanists, we must continually look backward as well as forward to ensure that work accomplished ten or twenty years ago by scholars who input their data across a series of software programs and storage devices - many of which are now extinct - is still accessible to researchers. Sally-Beth MacLean, for example, reflects upon the ongoing trials inherent in developing some of the Records of Early English Drama's resources into a viable electronic resource over a twenty year span, a process that involved the migration of data from Basic to dBASE to ACCESS to MySQL (forthcoming). This migration required mastery of a series of software programs and transference of data that has allowed for rich but still evolving electronic presentation of that information in REED's Patrons and Performances Web Site.

Second, humanities computing projects alter the relationship between researcher and research in a profound manner that involves the ability to communicate research in scholarly as well as computational registers (Clement 2011). In the process of planning the lifespan of a project, digital humanists must keep in mind the relative timeliness of printed journals or volumes in which their work is featured, which in turn affects how their scholarly work is received and evaluated: “Working at the interface between humanities research questions and evolving digital methods means that projections about the trajectories of digital humanities work are less likely to be accurate than those of traditional scholarship” (Brown et. al. 2009, paragraph 2). By the time this essay is published, I expect that the electronic platforms on which my research project rely, as well as its scope, will have changed radically. The scholar must make best efforts to ensure that representation of digital scholarship in traditional media approaches the pace with which the project is progressing, while acknowledging that static forms of publication situate a digital research project roundly in the past. In the case of long-term projects such as Orlando, this has involved particular emphasis on “deliverables”—presentation of tangible elements to colleagues and granting agencies that demonstrate progress and can therefore be factored into the promotion and tenure process as well as further grant applications. These deliverables often take the form of publications about the project, most often in print, rather than milestones within the project itself (paragraph 3). For the foreseeable future, when we commit to a humanities computing research project we must also commit to a slate of traditional publications that make our colleagues aware of and drive them to that project.

Third, questions of deliverables and the appeal of addressing hitherto unmanageable research subjects leads to increased tension about what constitutes a diplomatic edition and how we, as scholarly editors, should contemplate and manage the scope of our research ambitions. We are forced, in ways traditionally not as explicit, to push against the allure of the all-encompassing and never-ending. While no research is ever complete,[4] our contributions are of course finite. Elena Pierazzo reminds us that “we must have limits, and limits represent the boundaries within which the hermeneutic process can develop. The challenge is therefore to select those limits that allow a model which is adequate to the scholarly purpose for which it has been created” (2011, 466-7). In recognizing these limits, it may be more constructive for researchers to move away from the traditional “silo” approach to digital scholarship in favor of more collaborative, interoperable undertakings (Nichols 2009). The encouragement for such collaboration serves to invigorate digital humanists, urging us to reconsider our projects in terms of broader interactions among bodies of and approaches to research. Julia Flanders points out that with storage cheaper and editorial decision-making not restricted by traditional constrictions of static media, “the rare, the lesser known, the overlooked, the neglected, and the downright excluded are now likely to make their way into digital library collections” (Flanders 2009, paragraph 5). It is in this periphery that I have been working, considering how to avoid the silo trap. One solution, one that I will present here, is to seek out potential research partners and create correlative associations that offer benefits to both major research fields and nuanced sub-genres relative to those fields.

The purpose of this essay is not to propose a solution to any of these challenges, but rather to reflect upon my preparedness to negotiate them all in the continuing development of my digital resource. In this essay I will consider again what constitutes a digital edition, the importance of connectedness among complementary scholarly endeavors, and the opportunities for—and potential pitfalls associated with—editorial collaboration. The essay offers a forum for discussion of many of the topics identified, and raises broader questions about attribution, citation, scholarly recognition and sustainability. I speak as one in the midst of such evaluation, laying the groundwork for a project that I hope will take root and gain the support and recognition I believe it deserves. The subject of this essay is a nascent digital compendium entitled The Tarlton Project. The project is a correlation to the Records of Early English Drama. In particular, it capitalizes upon REED's transition to the digital arena, with the goal of integrating REED materials in a meaningful way into the fabric of this critical work and forming clear connections back to REED's online resources. In particular, I will examine how my continuing work on the Tarlton Project is not only informed by but is significantly reliant upon REED, and offers a suggestion for how such research projects may, through electronic association with REED, reinforce REED's continuing and expanding value to a cross-disciplinary field of scholars of the medieval and early modern periods. It represents one way in which individual or small groups of scholars creating born-digital research projects can ensure that their individual undertakings are compatible with established research platforms, and in the process reinforce one of the tenets of humanities computing—the potential for interoperability among complementary disciplines.

1. Richard Tarlton: Marginalized or Central Subject?

Richard Tarlton is widely considered to be one of the most influential figures in Elizabethan performance.[5] A founding member of the Queen’s Men, Tarlton was what we today might call a superstar: he was their lead comic actor whose appearances in London and on tour transcended the roles he played; his popularity onstage and off registered with all classes, from the lowliest apprentice to the queen herself. A favorite of Elizabeth, he had perhaps a unique ability to “undumpish” her when she was out of sorts and ease the way for courtiers to approach her: “[h]er highest Favorites, would in some Cases, go to Tarleton, before they would go to the Queen, and he was their Vsher to prepare their advantagious access unto Her” (Fuller 1662, 47). His fame continued long after his death in 1588, and his performance style was emulated by comic actors generations later. Far into the eighteenth century images of his jesting figure could still be found in London (Halliwell-Phillipps 1844, xxiii-ix). Despite his fame and influence however, our information about Tarlton tends to be anecdotal rather than evidential. Most documentary evidence about him is tangential and relates primarily to the Queen’s Men: performance licenses, household accounts, and records of payments. We know he was a Master of Fence, that he was involved in a legal matter in Norwich, and that a will was registered upon his death (Halliwell-Phillipps, xi, xiii-xv). Otherwise, we rely on the many sometimes unreliable  references to him in verse and prose encomia, as well as in works such as Robert Wilson’s The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London. Most of these references are available to us only through miscellanies in Halliwell-Phillipps' edition of Tarlton’s Jests and Edwin Nungezer's reworking and extension of that material in his Dictionary of Actors (1929), both of which are out of print.[6] A biography of Tarlton must incorporate both documentary performance records and popular print and manuscript references if it is to be considered a credible resource, one truly representative of Tarlton's impact on society.

Tarlton’s influence was profound—not only upon audiences who watched him perform but also upon members of early modern English society who never set foot in a theatre or only became aware of him after his death. Elizabeth Halasz calls him a “sixteenth-century celebrity” (1995, 19) although Tarlton’s peers would probably not have identified him as such.[7] He amassed a fan base across England: people who longed to experience his comic genius in person, in print, and in image. And yet, because he flourished just before English professional theatre came into its own, and with it more expansive print records of performance and the figures associated with popular culture, Tarlton is consigned to a place that is marginal to modern scholarship about early English theatre. We suspect that Shakespeare saw him perform; we surmise that Shakespeare was involved with the Queen's Men in some way, if only by dint of his reliance upon Queen's Men plays in shaping his own history plays.[8] Tarlton, in some ways, is a victim of the Shakespeare industry: if he had flourished even ten years later he might resonate for theatre historians on a par with Edward Alleyn and Richard Burbage. But the question remains: is there enough information available to us to pursue a scholarly biography about Tarlton? How can he be the subject of such a project when the researcher must work from the outside in, relying on documentary evidence about his colleagues and anecdotes that have been dismissed by many scholars as being without sufficient credibility? Early modern studies scholars including Elizabeth Halasz, Richard Levin, and Peter Thomson have featured Tarlton as an example of early modern popular culture and clowning, but to my knowledge no one since Halliwell-Phillipps has undertaken a longer-form consideration of Tarlton, and even Halliwell-Phillipps’s references to Tarlton’s popularity consigned to the introduction to the Jests.

A biographical examination of Tarlton that meaningfully incorporates and synthesizes these myriad references is impossible to achieve through traditional publication methods. Print publication does not usually serve such a nonlinear and expansive approach to scholarship. Electronic publication, on the other hand, provides invaluable opportunities for an author or group of contributors to develop the many facets of the Tarlton persona as an interlinking compendium of references and recollections: a treasury that captures the multimodal breadth of Tarlton’s impact upon early modern English society without relegating these references to an appendix. This type of research project reinforces the idea of how a digital edition can establish new frontiers for scholarly research about historical figures that may not have warranted such comprehensive study in traditional, pre-digital forms of scholarship.

2. The Tarlton Project: Research Approaches

The Tarlton Project will provide comprehensive access to and analysis of archival documents relating to Richard Tarlton. The objective of the project is to establish Tarlton as a subject integral to continuing cross-disciplinary scholarship pertaining to early modern performance and cultural studies. The Tarlton Project will offer an unrivaled open-access repository of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century print and manuscript references to Tarlton and his contemporaries from genres including drama, poetry, ballads, and other popular forms, as well as visual images. The project, as currently envisioned, will comprise three intersecting and interoperable electronic resources: a complete TEI-compliant digital edition of Tarlton’s Jests (see section 3, “The Tarlton Project and Tarlton’s Jests, below); a multimodal analysis of Tarlton’s relationship with the Queen’s Men (see section 4, “Tarlton, the Red Lion, and Touring in 1583”, below); and a dynamic prosopography developed from a miscellany of references to Tarlton built upon the references compiled by Halliwell-Phillipps and Nunzeger. This will be the first scholarly edition of the Jests, and the first published since Halliwell-Phillips’s in 1844. It will also be the first time anyone has attempted a prosopography of Tarlton. Most important I believe, it will serve as a new model for parsing REED records, pulling a cross-section of records from all twenty-three collections over a specific time period.

Considering the ranging nature of the many artifacts that will be incorporated into this work, some might suggest that the Tarlton Project is more archive than edition. In fact, it offers a more dynamic and flexible model for analysis and presentation of interrelated historical and literary material than either term affords. I believe that in order to create a comprehensive portrait of Richard Tarlton and demonstrate his unique impact on early modern English culture and society, these records and references must be considered and cross-examined in a dialogic fashion.

The Tarlton Project is designed and will expand through hypertextual and hypermedial[9] analysis of documents and records, as will be demonstrated below. Artifacts will be offered in TEI-compliant XML transcription and, where possible, as facsimiles. Perhaps most valuable to the Tarlton Project, and representative of the spirit of this volume, is the opportunity to extend the project beyond its own confines to the resources that will constitute the REED Online platform: born-digital “eREED” editions and transformed legacy print volumes, as well as the expanded Patrons and Performances and Early Modern London Theatres databases, and ultimately other REED-associated endeavors currently in progress. As conceived, this is a truly integrated approach for cross- and multi-platform research. REED's online resources would act as more than a point of reference. It anticipates REED as a nexus for a wide-ranging network of associated and complementary research endeavors. Although the Tarlton Project is in what could be described as a very public Alpha phase of development, REED has already proved invaluable in terms of establishing the framework and direction of the project. Patrons and Performances has been of particular importance: such access to troupe and venue records has illuminated and enhanced my understanding of Tarlton's movement around England as a touring member of the Queen's Men from 1583–88. Interpretation of these touring records by date, location, venue, and remuneration has helped me to create a model of the troupe's performance activities that in turn raises important questions about Tarlton's participation in these tours.[10] This documentary evidence serves as a touchstone when considering the credibility of more anecdotal references to Richard Tarlton.

The Tarlton Project currently exists across a number of publication platforms. TEI encoded files for Tarlton’s Jests are viewable in browsers even as they continue to be edited. The raw XML files are also available for review and collaborative editing in a Github repository.[11] Georeferenced Queen’s Men touring data from 1583-88 – the years in which Tarlton was a member – will be viewable in ArcGIS Online web map and interactive network web-based visualizations platforms such as Gephi and Palladio. Project overview and critical analysis of the ongoing work emanating from close reading of the Jests and archival data is currently published in a WordPress instance ( that also integrates the edition and mapping components, as well. In future phases of the project the miscellany will be encoded in TEI and linked to the Jests edition. The Tarlton Project is an ambitious project that is being developed at a moment when, due to the pace of electronic innovation referred to above, presentation is in many ways less important than the sustainability of the data being published. It is imperative to the ongoing viability of the project that new content management systems (CMS) and data representation platforms be tested and evaluated to remain in line with current trends in digital humanities research, which encourages ongoing dynamic documentation or work and publishing of critical reflection as it evolves, rather than once it is completed.

The Tarlton Project’s development strategy relies upon extensive contemplation of the mediation and remediation[12] of the accumulated materials, and the relationship of the editor to these materials as edited works rather than replicated ones. Mat Dahlström considers the “media translation” of materials through an electronic interface to be an act of editorial negotiation with both the material and the medium (2004, 27). The digital edition must be recognized as a distinctive approach to publication that is a “subjective, rhetorical device [that comments upon] contemporary values, discussions and interests. It is situated in time, in space, in culture, and in particular media ecologies” (21-2). I agree with Dahlström's call for consideration of these editorial concerns, but believe that we, as editors of electronic works, must remember that such works will survive and be remediated again in time and for media ecologies that we cannot yet envision.

As an electronic knowledge base the Tarlton Project aims to translate a variety of traditional print media into an electronic environment with the goal of providing more efficient access to and analysis of archival documents with Richard Tarlton as the central subject. While this “media translation” as defined by Dahlström (27) offers these documents through an electronic interface, the process is not just one of replication. The editor or editors must negotiate and interpret the source material as they would with any other form of critical work. In his article on the complexities of editing manuscript-based miscellanies, Jonathan Gibson cautions us to consider authority as we negotiate such collections (Gibson 2012, 85). Since much of the initial part of compiling references of Tarlton lies in remediating and interpolating documentary materials as well as disconnected and partial references—and here I consider in particular the 19th century gatherings of Halliwell-Phillips that were rearranged by Nungezer—questions of subjectivity, authorship, compilation and intention must be foregrounded in work that might otherwise remain a catalogue of factoids.

3. The Tarlton Project and Tarlton's Jests

The first phase of the Tarlton Project focuses on the transcription and gloss of the 1590 edition of Tarlton’s Jests. The Jests is a compilation of anecdotes about Richard Tarlton separated into three sections: “His Court-wittie Iests”, “His ƒound Cittie Iests”, and “His Country Prettie Iests.” The categorization of anecdotes reinforces the degree of influence Tarlton had across class lines as well as beyond London and across England as he toured with the Queen’s Men. The Jests also demonstrate Tarlton’s often aggressive and sometimes violent interactions with his audiences, neighbors, and fellow Englishmen and women. As often as not a challenger initiated the violence; Tarlton’s victories were invariably witty rather than physical. Halliwell-Phillips considers whether some of the jests were actually about Tarlton or were in fact earlier anecdotes recycled with Tarlton's name attached, exploiting his celebrity for publication purposes. Nevertheless, he suggests that this should not deter further consideration of at least some of the jests relating to Tarlton in some way (1844, xxxix). Scholars including David Kathman, John Astington, Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean have incorporated analysis of specific jests, positioning the anecdotes as important tangential support for larger examinations of early modern performance. Following their lead, I propose to continue examination of the Jests in conjunction with archival documents about the Queen’s Men, thereby offering a better understanding of how plausible printed materials such as the Jests might be to our analysis of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century drama.

A straightforward example of how the actions of Tarlton in the Jests track with Queen’s Men touring records is “Tarlton’s Jest of a Bristowman.”[13] In this crass tale, Tarlton and the Queen’s Men travel to “S. James his Faire, at Bristowe.” There is no explicit mention of a performance; the story focuses instead on Tarlton’s embarrassment of one Master Sunbancke. However the jest begins with “When the Queenes Players were restrained in Summer,” which surely refers to one of their summer tours when conditions in London prevented them from performing there. We know that the Queen’s Men performed at the Guildhall in Bristol in 1583–24 July, (REED Bristol, 124), 1587–23-29 July (131) and 1588–20 July (133), and were paid £2 for each visit. Traditionally, the feast of St. James was celebrated on 25 July, and a related fair was held on that date at the St. James Priory until the eighteenth century (“St. James Church”). Although 1583 might be excluded as a year in which Tarlton would have undertaken such a prank (if he was touring the south-east as suggested above), the event of Master Sunbacke’s humiliation might easily have happened in 1587 or 1588.

“An excellent jest of Tarlton suddenly spoken” provides a more complex reading of Tarlton in relation to REED sources. This jest describes a performance of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth. The jest begins with the identification of the venue: the Bull tavern at Bishop’s Gate in London. We know that the Bull was a popular performance venue in the late sixteenth century, one frequented by the Queen’s Men (Kathman 2009, 66-69). The significance of this particular jest is two-fold. First, the unidentified author describes how at this performance William Knell played the role of Henry the Fifth. In The Queen’s Men and their Plays, McMillin and MacLean assert that this reference to Knell as well as the identification of the Bull provide believable evidence regarding the dating of the play (89-90). William Knell died in mid-1587 in a fight with fellow Queen’s Man John Towne (196-7). This reference therefore pins the play to a date early in 1587 or before, making it “the earliest of extant English history plays among the professional companies.” (89) Second, the jest demonstrates the fluid nature of doubling at the time, as well as Tarlton’s virtuosity as a performer.[14] The Jests author explains that the actor assigned the role of the Judge in the play was absent for that performance. Tarlton, “euer forward to please,” volunteered to play the role of the Judge in addition to his own major comic role of Derricke. This doubling by Tarlton is not in itself remarkable. When one examines the text of The Famous Victories[15] however, it appears that Derricke and the Judge appear in the same scene, which would certainly be a prodigious feat for any actor. The pace of the scene as written does not provide any breaks in which Tarlton could exit as one character and enter as the other. If the play was performed at the Bull as written, Tarlton managed to switch between Derricke and the Judge while remaining onstage.[16] Several of the lines of dialogue in the scene involve Dericke and the Judge speaking one immediately after the other:

JUDGE.          Jayler, bring the prisoner to the barre.

DERICKE.          Hear you, my Lord, I pray you bring the bar to the prisoner.

JUDGE.         Hold thy hand up at the barre.


HENRY.          Why my Lord, what hath he done?

JUDGE.          And it please your Majestie, he hath robbed a poor Carrier.

DERICKE.          Heare you sir, marry it was one Derricke, Goodman Hoblings man of Kent.

HENRY.          What, wast you butten breech? Of my word my Lord, he did it but in iest.

DERICKE.          Heare you sir, I pray you, is it your mans quality to rob folks in iest? In faith he shall be hangd in iest.

HENRY.  Well my Lord, what meane you to do with my man?

JUDGE.  And please your grace the law must passe on him, According to iustice, then he must be executed (B2-B3).

“Heare you sir ...” is Dericke’s last line in the scene, but the subsequent thirteen lines of dialogue comprise the argument between Henry and the Judge. There is no convenient moment anywhere in the scene for Tarlton to slip offstage and re-enter as Dericke or the Judge. He would have had to alter his costume onstage in mid-scene.

The episode turns on physical comedy. The scene calls for Henry to box the Judge’s ears in an insult to judicial authority. In the jest, Knell “hit Tarlton a sound boxe indeed”, eliciting a strong laugh from the audience. The Judge (and Dericke, apparently) exit. According to the 1598 edition of the play, the next scene involves Dericke and John Cobbler presenting a parody of the confrontation between Henry and the Judge. In the jest, “Tarlton (in his Clownes clothes) comes out, and askes the Actors what newes?” In the jest version, another character is present in the scene, and these Actors tell Tarlton of the interaction between Henry and the Judge. Tarlton, as Derricke, expresses surprise at such an affront, and then says, to the great enjoyment of the audience, that “me thinkes the blow remaines on my cheeke, that it burnes againe.”

Presenting this dialogue in “An excellent iest of Tarlton suddenly spoken”, written perhaps ten years after the event, suggests how Tarlton could overwhelm and rework a play to his benefit. It also describes his creativity in breaking the fourth wall and the knockabout nature of stage violence at the time. All of these observations relate closely to REED documents and related research. They also serve to reinforce and extend REED’s objective of exploring “the broad context from which the great drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries grew” (REED website).

4. Tarlton, the Red Lion, and Touring in 1583

The second phase of the project hinges upon a key example of how such a contextualization of records might elucidate Tarlton's role as a principal of the Queen's Men is the incident at the Red Lion Inn in Norwich on Saturday, 15 June 1583. On this date the Queen’s Men performed twice in Norwich: first at the Common Hall, presumably for town officials over a mid-day meal, and then in the afternoon at the innyard of the Red Lion. While the Queen’s Men were performing, an unruly townsman named Wynsdon tried to gain access to the yard without paying his entry fee.[17] A witness, William Kylbye of Pockthorpe, testified that “three of the players rvnne of the Staige with there Swordes in there handes being in the scaberdes” and gave chase (REED Norwich 70-6). Henry Browne identified the players as John Bentley, John Singer and Tarlton although Browne observed that Tarlton “was Stayed by the way” and therefore did not take part in the skirmish (70-6).  A number of townspeople joined the melee, including a man wearing a blue coat, who was later identified in court records as Wynsdon’s servant. At the end of it all, the man in the blue coat was dead and several men, including Bentley and Singer, were detained and held for questioning. The details of the encounter have been examined at greater length elsewhere[18] but subsequent legal events pertain to the Tarlton Project. First, if Tarlton was considered the best swordsman of the troupe,[19] it is curious that he remained out of or was kept from the battle in which several people were injured in swordplay. Tarlton was not arrested; Bentley and Singer remained in gaol until 19 June, when they provided guarantees for bail and the assurance that they would return for Sessions court on 1 July (McMillin and MacLean, 42). Meanwhile, the Queen’s Men were scheduled to perform in the southwest beginning a week or so after the incident. Geography suggests that they might have had to continue on to Abingdon without Bentley and Singer in order to honor their next contracted performance on or soon after 24 June.

Abingdon, in Oxfordshire, is some 150 miles southwest of Norwich; it might have taken the laden troupe a week to travel that far.[20] Abingdon is also along the route the Queen’s Men may have taken on their way to Bath, where they were contracted to play that June and July. There are further dates in Bristol and Leicester in July.[21] One can trace a possible touring route moving always southwest in order to perform in Bath and Bristol in July. However, the REED records also identify several performances in the southeast[22] in August and September. A travel route that encompasses all of the performance sites and requiring several hundreds of miles of travel back and forth across the country for a single company within the two months indicated is impossible to plot. Furthermore, because performances requiring the full troupe would have been affected by the absence of Bentley and Singer who remained in or returned to Norwich 1 July when Tarlton was present to provide surety for them in anticipation of another return for the next Quarter Sessions court on 23 September.[23]

Would the troupe have had adequate resources to perform plays such as Famous Victories down from twelve members to nine? Doubling and trebling of roles would have been common practice on tour, and Tarlton was unusually adept at taking on several roles with great comic effect, as was demonstrated above. At some point, though, would the plays not have suffered—or been drastically altered—for lack of actors? Such alteration might not have been required if a division of the troupe into two units was premeditated.[24] McMillin and MacLean propose that the troupe might have split in two to meet all of their performance commitments. “If the Queen’s Men were formed to reach far and wide into the kingdom, the best way was for the company to divide and send branches in different directions” (44) It has been proposed that split touring would have been undertaken in the years after the Queen’s Men had established their financial viability in the provinces. Might Tarlton, with the newly released Bentley and Singer and a few other actors in tow, have covered the dates in Canterbury, Dover, Faversham, and Rye (and possibly Lydd), while the rest of the troupe completed the engagements in Bristol, Leicester, and Nottingham before reuniting—perhaps in Cambridge[25] or London in late September? This does not, of course, answer the question of how two partial groups could perform. A creative solution might involve hiring local day players to fill out the ranks, but confirmation of such practice is wishful at best.[26] At the very least, the evidence suggests that the Queen’s Men, even in their infancy, had sufficient reputation and resources to undertake such an endeavour.

Working with geospatial data provides more and better ways in which to reconsider the logistics of Elizabethan performance tours. The idea of overlaying the yearly data onto maps strengthens our understanding of touring trends. Where did the Queen’s Men return year after year? Which venues proved valuable and which unworthy of continued attendance, whether due to political, financial, or logistic concerns? We can use the identification of such geo- and temporo-spatial patterns to further enhance our understanding of the regional popularity of the Queen’s Men—and by extension, and perhaps in conjunction with, the activity of other performance troupes active over the same period. Mapping system software, such as ArcGIS, is designed to analyze in-depth geospatial data. Increasingly, ArcGIS and similar tools have been used and adapted by humanities scholars to consider historical subjects.[27] Patrons and Performances already uses Open Layers software to present data about REED-identified performance venues. An expansion of this approach might integrate this REED data with other historical information pursuant to early modern travel routes by porting it to a collaborative visualization platform. This type of approach would provide rich data integration such as drawings and photographs of performance venues, present hypothetical touring routes analyzed by year as well as place - as was suggested above for the 1583 schedule - and ultimately could provide a platform for REED to interconnect with other early modern studies projects concerned with historical English spaces.

Such a mapping component might seem tangential to the scope of the Tarlton Project, but I propose that it lies at the very heart of such research. Richard Tarlton, as the premiere actor in the Queen’s Men during this period, would have been as in demand on tour as he apparently was in the City and at Court. With so little evidence available for Tarlton during these years, close reading of the troupe’s travel activities provides some answers about where Tarlton went and what he was doing. Such analysis of the REED source material also provides a more comprehensive understanding of sixteenth-century touring practices and raises important questions about Tarlton’s participation on these tours.[28] A close reading of these citations provides grounds for examination of travel routes and touring practices. This exercise also serves a larger purpose. The ongoing publication and interpretation of REED’s discoveries provides scholars with ever-more sophisticated and complex views of how troupes like the Queen’s Men toured throughout England, and for whom they performed. Questions still remain about the logistics of these touring schedules, and what their travel patterns might look like. Geospatial information systems can assist us in visualizing the movements of acting troupes during the last twenty-five years of Elizabeth’s reign. By plotting known performance sites and dates, and then superimposing them on early modern road systems, feasible routes begin to appear. Comparing tour routes across a span of years and cross-indexing the activities of several contemporary patronized troupes presents a robust model of the movements of these players. This information will, in turn, add more value and raise more questions for scholars who continue to expand the application of REED documents in a variety of related fields. Such nontraditional, nonlinear approaches to addressing REED data—crossing county lines and spanning years—suggest new ways in which scholars can apply REED’s vast resources to an ever-expanding variety of research projects. The repositioning of REED as a digitally enhanced research platform opens the way for as yet un-envisioned integration of REED into the fabric of the future of early modern studies.

5. Tarlton Memorialized in The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London

Another opportunity to examine Tarlton’s influence upon sixteenth-century performance is through an analysis of the relationship between popular theatre and broadside ballads, specifically in the complex metatheatrical display in The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London. This play[29] offers remarkable evidence of the ways in which the two media complemented one another while they competed for public attention. The play, an allegorical critique of the City’s morals, begins with this stage direction:

Enter the three Lordes and their pages: First, Pollicie with his page Wit before him, bearing a shield: the ympreze, a Tortoys, the word, Prouidens securus. Next Pompe with his page Wealth bearing his shield, the word Glorie sauns peere: the ympreze a Lillie. Last, Pleasure, his page Wil, his ympreze, a Faulcon, the word, Pour temps: Pol. attired in blacke, Pompe in rich roabes, and Pleasure in colours. (B1)[30]

This procession, similar in structure and function to a court masque or to a city or guild pageant, immediately establishes the importance of iconography in identifying character, class, and intent. Pollicie’s first line embeds a further stage direction, as he directs his page Wit to “aduance my shield and hang it vp, / To challenge him who euer dare denie, / That one of those three London Ladies rare / Ought not of right be matcht with Pollicie.” (B1). The other lords follow suit, hanging their shields about the stage. This nod to the semiotics of chivalry is a cue to the audience: the signifying shields remain on stage long after the three lords have departed, leaving the young pages to engage in an expository dialogue about their masters and their own social position. Some one hundred lines later, the visual sign of established order is deconstructed as Simplicity, a “poore Citizen” enters.[31] Simplicity’s attention is immediately drawn to the shields, as the pages point out by noting the fool’s “gaping”. Simplicity performs the role of clown, engaging in word play and riddles, as he explains to the pages that he is a ballad-seller, and then demands to know “whose wares are these that are vp already? I paid rent for my standing, and other folks wares shall be placed afore mine.” (B4) This assumption that the shields are wares for sale subtly undermines the privileged status that the aristocracy would presume to impose on society.[32] By reducing the chivalric symbols of the shields to mercantile elements—Simplicity asks, “They are fine indeed, who sels them, can ye tell? Is he free?”—the play provides a destabilizing humorous moment for the public theatre audience, dismissing the aristocracy as being no better than a group of street merchants.

After an extensive verbal sparring match in which Simplicity plays with the names and situations of the three pages, he takes out his six ballads in hopes of making a sale.

Marie child, I have chipping Norton a mile from Chappell othe heath, A lamentable ballad of burning the Pope’s dog: the sweet Ballade of the Lincoln shire bagpipes, And Peggy and Willy, But now he is dead and gone. Mine own sweet Willy is laid in his graue la, la, la, lan ti dan derry, dan dad an, lan ti dan, dan tan derry, dan do.” (C1)

At least some of the ballads identified were actually in circulation, and the incorporation of a reference to singing (presuming that ‘la la la’ would have been matched to a recognizable melody) reinforces the communication value they would have had to the audience. H.S.D. Mithal identifies “Peggy and Willy” as a contemporary ballad sung “to the tune of tarlton's carroll” and suggests that this ballad was a lament for Tarlton (Mithal quoted in Munro 2009, 117). The oral reference to Tarlton in the play is reinforced when ballad-seller Simplicity takes out his best sales item; a broadside featuring a drawing of Richard Tarlton. The business of ballad-selling continues when Simplicity’s wife Penury enters, and he quickly shifts gears to reassure her of his industriousness.

“be mannerly boies that she knocke ye not with her staffe: keepe your own counsel, and Ile make ye laugh. What doo yee lacke, what lacke ye. Stand away these boies from my wares, Get ye from my stall, or Ile wring you by the eares. Let my customers see the wares: what lack ye what would ye have bought.” (C3)

This speech suggests that a ballad-seller might have sold his wares from a stall just as any other bookseller would; that he hawked his wares with a general call (“What do yee lacke”) as well as with snippets of the ballads themselves; and that he would have expected harassment in his endeavors (such as other salespeople taking his stall, or small boys distracting potential customers). In the aggregate, this scene accomplishes much: it demonstrates the fluidity of City society and the porous connection between City and Court. It praises a celebrity in both theatrical and extratheatrical terms, thereby reinforcing his importance to the audience. It also deconstructs the privilege of publication—metaphorically, through the replacement of the Lords’ physical presence by the character of the ballad-seller figure, and more specifically by the identification of the broadside ballads as the means of effectively communicating with the citizens of London.

If the production was performed as it reads—with actual props used for the escutcheons and the broadside sheets—then the image to which Simplicity and the pages refer must have been a powerful signifier for the audience. It is through this act of visual reinforcement that Tarlton represents the complex blending of performance and print culture. He is “less a figure of a receding orality than a prime example of the burgeoning marketplace of print” even on the stage (Munro 119). The famous comic actor had died barely two years before Famous Lords was printed; therefore a performance would have occurred almost immediately after his death. Tarlton’s iconic jigging figure was recognizable to fans of his theatrical work as well as through the ballads associated with him. It is almost certain that a London theatre-going audience in the late 1580s would have recognized his visage immediately and that the common citizens, with whom Tarlton had forged a significant rapport, would have experienced a particularly visceral response to the appearance of his countenance onstage.

This remarkable piece of early modern intertextuality does more than acknowledge the variety of modes of communication at the time. If the original production was performed using a facsimile of a broadside ballad incorporating a recognizable image of Tarlton, this production element becomes a piece of metatheatre that effectively and seamlessly links the theatre and the ballad in a mutually beneficial relationship rather than a confrontational one. John Astington believes this was the case, and extends the performance relationship between play and ballad to include a merchandising opportunity. “This stage property is likely to have been the real thing, and the ballads were probably for sale outside the playhouse after the performance. The image held up on a London stage late in the 1580s is probably the same one Scottowe copied from a ballad bought from a traveling vendor” (Astington 1997, 163). The image to which Astington refers is in John Scottowe’s illustrated Alphabet that featured an icon of Tarlton in the letter “T.” It is unclear why Astington assumes Scottowe copied the image from a ballad vendor or how that would be the same image seen on stage, considering that there are other woodcuts of Tarlton dating from roughly the same time. Nevertheless, the idea that vendors would be reinforcing a visual representation of a dead actor by selling an illustrated ballad outside the performance venue at the same time that the same representation was presented onstage as a prop is too intriguing to put aside. The relationship between Three Lords, Queen's Men performance, ballad culture, and imagistic representation of Tarlton offers an opportunity for a form of intricate multimodal analysis that works extremely well in digital editions such as the one I propose.

Conclusion: REED Online and the Tarlton Project

The Records of Early English Drama is a resource with limitless potential as an interoperable research platform in accord with medieval and early modern studies digital initiatives. REED provides a natural connection with projects concerned with, among others: politics, religion, science, medicine, population growth, literacy, and gender studies. REED's ongoing commitment to digital scholarship prefigures how the semantic web will reconfigure humanities and social sciences research. As more scholars embrace ever-more sophisticated data management and cross-task tools suites—everything from linguistic analysis to GIS visualization—the ways in which we consider historical documents through cross-disciplinary collaboration strengthens research approaches in ways hitherto impossible. From its earliest incarnation REED has engendered the kind of nonlinear proto-hypertextual approach to research that more recently has been considered native to the digital humanities. The structure of REED volumes and the ways in which scholars consult and apply them to individual book and research projects heralds approaches that are now facilitated by means of databases, where once we were reliant solely on paper indices. Rather than a silo source that is then augmented with peripheral materials, the REED Online/eREED platform effects an organic transition into the digital realm from which a growing number of associated nodes emerge. The first of these are Patrons and Performances and EMLoT, and others are currently in development. As it has traditionally accommodated work of scholars engaged in both extensive monographs and shorter commentary, the REED platform will encourage expansive initiatives and smaller, more focused projects.

The Tarlton Project would serve as one type of satellite, a project that relies on REED data and in turn extends REED's consideration of early modern performance culture. Identification and expansion of the corpus, which requires the contributions of similarly inclined researchers, in turn serves as a modest testing ground for further development of REED Online. The Tarlton Project prompts seeding and interactivity of similar satellite projects undertaken by emerging and established scholars. These would ultimately form a REED web (pun intended), thereby reinforcing the collective strength and importance of forty years of REED scholarship to the fabric of early modern studies.

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Wikibooks: Policies and Guidelines.

[1] For perspective on the evolution of digital scholarly editing, see Susan Schreibman.

[2] For early but still pertinent consideration of these categories and opportunities, see Lavagnino 1998 and 2009.

[3] In a very useful contemplation of the differences (and similarities) between traditional and digital scholarly editions, Mats Dahlström raises questions about the extended life of such documents by digital means: “[i]f translation is successful … we feel the work has been kept alive for yet a little time, namely the time span of the new document instantiation.” And yet, he continues, “when no more translations take place, no more new documents refresh the work and the old documents die, the externally memorized work has ceased to be.” (Dahlström 23)

[4] See Susan Brown et. al. for observations pertaining to completion and finality, particularly in reference to the Orlando Project.

[5] Here I refer to scholars including David Kathman, Elizabeth Halasz, Richard Levin, Peter Thomson, Jennifer Roberts-Smith, Peter Cockett, Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean.

[6] Halliwell-Phillipp's edition of Tarlton's Jests is accessible through Google Books; Nungezer's Dictionary is accessible through the Internet Archives.

[7] The Oxford English Dictionary Online dates the first reference to celebrity in the sense that we most often consider it from 1849, “a celebrated person; a public character.”

[8] It has been proposed that Hamlet’s contemplation of Yorick’s skull in Act 5 Scene 1 is an homage to Tarlton.

[9] I use the term as considered by Randall Packer and Ken Jordan as extending a dialogic reading across media forms.

[10] The list of performances in which Tarlton might have participated is developed from the Patrons and Performances site in conjunction with Appendix A of The Queen's Men and their Plays.

[11] Github is a git repository hosting service for source code management.

[12] The term remediation as applied within this essay is derived from the work of Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin, which examines how traditional media are refashioned in digital media forms.

[13] All references to individual jests, unless otherwise indicated, are transcribed from the 1590 edition (EEBO facsimile), available for review at

[14] Tarlton also regularly performed a post-play jest for his audiences, who roared with laughter when he “peept out his head” from behind the curtain. (Peacham as quoted in Halliwell-Phillipps, xxvi) Tarlton would then engage in an improvised interactive stand-up routine in which he called out for “theams” from the audience and composed often insulting and always popular rhymes on the spot.

[15] All references to Famous Victories of Henry the fifth unless otherwise indicated are from the 1913 Tudor Facsimile Texts edition.

[16] Barbara Palmer, contemplating how the Queen's Men might have performed King Leir on tour, supposes that the actors might have resorted to “[d]isguising which either swap costumes on stage or scale down noble finery to country habits.” This practice could also have come into play in London performances, (2009, 29).

[17] The court session record does not identify the play performed by the Queen's Men, although one of those examined, Nicholas Thurston, describes seeing “one of the players which played the Duke goe of the Staige,” REED Norwich, 70-76.

[18] See in particular Jennifer Roberts-Smith.

[19] Halliwell-Phillipps reproduces an excerpt from the register for a School of Defence, documenting Tarlton's admittance as a “Master of Fence, the highest degree,” in 1587 (1844 xi).

[20]  In her examination of Queen's Men touring practices in the north of England, Barbara Palmer takes up the question of how troupes would have traveled on the road: “[a]lthough common sense dictates that touring troupes must have used wagons to transport costumes, properties, and other necessaries, English documentary records seldom support common sense” (2009, 29).For the purposes of the Queen's Men's 1583 tour, I follow Palmer and assume that there might have been a wagon as well as some of the troupe traveling on horseback.

[21] McMillin and MacLean identify the following performance dates: Abingdon, after 24 June; Bath, c. June/July; Bristol, 24 July; and Leicester, after 25 July (1998, 175).

[22] These included the Guildhall at Faversham, 26 August; Rye, 14 September; a range of dates in Dover (5 April – 8 September) and another potential contract at Lydd (22 July 1583 to 24 July 1584); as well as an undated performance at Canterbury. Ibid.

[23] Bentley and Singer did not return to Norwich in September, and there is no record of a warrant issued to recall them. Their incarceration and failure to appear at court did not affect further Norwich performances by the Queen's Men; REED records indicate performance dates in 1584, 1585, and 1586, presumably with Bentley (d. 1585) and Singer (d. 1588) in tow.

[24] See Barbara Palmer's experiment concerning the reconfiguration of plays on tour, 29.

[25] Although the records indicate a contract at an unknown venue at Cambridge from 28 September 1583 through 28 September 1584, this appears to have been a payment not to perform (McMillin and MacLean 1998, 66).

[26] In her consideration of how early modern troupes might have traveled, Barbara Palmer weighs common sense against English documentary records of the period, reminding us that we should be cautious about making great leaps in our assumptions about touring practices, ibid.

[27] For a valuable example of how mapping travel data can enhance linguistic analysis see Cooper and Gregory.

[28] Performance records often infer date ranges–in several cases a year in length–that do not necessarily indicate specific individual performances. Payment for performance as documented in household and civic records sometimes reflects the date payment was recorded rather than the date of performance. “[T]he date of recording a mayor's payment to players should not be taken as the exact date of performance or even as the precise day of the payment itself in every instance … Where a payment is entered under a specific day or week within a set of annual accounts which are clearly organized and detailed, rather than summarized, in chronological order, then we may reasonably assume that both the performance and the payment concerned occurred not too long before.” McMillin and MacLean, 39.

[29] Three Lords and Three Ladies was written by Queen’s Men playwright Robert Wilson, performed first by the Queen’s Men in 1589, and published in 1590.

[30] Citations for The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London are from the 1590 edition.

[31] Tarlton may have performed the role of Simplicity in Robert Wilson's Three Ladies of London, which would have added an extra degree of referentiality to this character.

[32] By the end of the scene, Simplicity has uncovered the Lords' true origins: “Citizens borne and Courtiers brought vp, I thinke so, for they that be borne in London are halfe Courtiers before they see the Court.” The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London, C3.