Shakespeare Quarterly 54.1 (2003) 97-98
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An Index of Characters in Early Modern English Drama: Printed Plays, 1500-1660. Edited by Thomas L. Berger, William C. Bradford, and Sidney L. Sondergard. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. vi + 170. $65.00 cloth.
With this revised and expanded version of An Index of Characters in English Printed Drama to the Restoration (edited by Berger and Bradford, 1975), the editors wanted to create a reference work that would be as "practical" and "inclusive as possible" (1). The product of their labors does all that and more, providing separate listings to cover major facets of a character's identity: his or her name or names (including aliases and alternate names in various editions or within the same playtext), nationality, occupation, religion, and even psychological state if mentioned in the dramatis personae, dialogue, or stage directions. Thus one crazed Spanish Catholic spy who goes by two names might show up in the index six or more times, with reference numbers geared to a table that identifies the printed play in which the character appears and the author's name if known. The table doesn't stop there—it also gives the date of the play's first edition (from W. W. Greg's Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration [1939-59]), the probable date of first performance (from Alfred Harbage's Annals of English Drama, 975-1700 ), and finally the relevant STC number.
Cambridge has gilded the lily to attract users to this valuable reference tool, which has several new features: an expanded bibliography; an index of playwrights; an alphabetical list of plays; and, most important, full entries for 23 Latin plays and 187 "lost" plays (defined as "plays printed or scheduled to be printed but which are no longer extant" ). Scanning these two new categories made me eager to know more. Why were so few Latin plays printed, given how frequently Latin drama was performed at schools and universities? Why are there no plays by classical Latin authors? Who were the audiences and/or readers for Matthew Gwinne's Nero, printed in Latin in the tense year of James I's accession, or for Richard Fanshawe's La Fida Pastora in the turmoil of 1658? The listing of lost plays is even more provocative. For anyone interested in English representations of Spanish culture, it is tantalizing to find that an anonymous play called Celestina, presumably based on the notorious bawd's dialogue, was printed in 1598, and that another lost play, Bonos Nochios, was printed in 1609. Some entries shed new light on other works or generate novel congruences. Impatient Grisel, for example, a phrase found in Samuel Butler's Hudibras (1663-78), is also the title of an anonymous play printed in 1656 but now lost. All those interested in John Lyly's Gallathea (1592), [End Page 97] Shakespeare's use of Ovid, or female same-sex desire in the period could make use of the entry on Iphis and Ianthe, printed in 1660 (although first performed in 1613) under the name "William Shakespeare." The book delights in unexpected ways. Character names from surviving non-Latin plays hold out the promise of greater insight into topics made threadbare by critics' lazy habit of referring to too few plays by too few playwrights. It is one thing to talk abstractly about sodomy or leaky bodies, another to discuss characters named Sodomy in John Bale's The Three Laws (1538) and Pisse-breech in Thomas Dekker's Blurt, Master Constable (1602).
Of a work so modestly excellent, it seems churlish to cavil at minor faults, but one is important enough to mention. The dust jacket asserts that this edition indexes characters from plays lost to print, "some of which are extant in manuscript versions." In their introduction the editors apologize for not including manuscript plays "for which there is no evidence of their being intended for print" (13-14), implying that plays for which there is such evidence are included...