General Editors: Thomas C. Crochunis and Michael Eberle-Sinatra

Eberle-Sinatra, Michael. 'Editing electronically Women Playwrights of the Romantic period.' British Women Playwrights around 1800. 1 September 1999. 8 pars. <>

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[This essay is the second part of a conference paper jointly presented by Thomas C. Crochunis and Michael Eberle-Sinatra]


Following Tom's remarks on the British Women Playwrights around 1800 project, I would like to describe the three major sections of the site and some of the forthcoming additions currently in progress.

2. The BWP1800 site includes several pages that reflect our effort to maintain an open-ended approach to the issues relevant to dramas written by women playwrights around our intentionally loose time frame. These issues include, specifically, editing these plays (in print and/or electronically); teaching and using these texts in a classroom environment; offering a space for discussion by Romantic scholars and theatre specialists; and finally attempting to bridge the gap between reading and discussing these plays, and performing them.


There are currently two plays available at the BWP1800 site, with three more in preparation. The first play coded for our project was Jane Scott's Broad Grins or Whackham and Windham; or, The Wrangling Lawyers, a burletta in two acts, first produced at the theatre Sans Pareil, London, on 25 January 1814. Jacky Bratton provided the text and an introduction that makes clear one of the major difficulties one faces when preparing texts of plays for either print or electronic publication. She writes:

The text given here is only the accidentally-surviving shadow of the theatrical event: it is taken from the copy made for the purposes of obtaining a licence for performance from the censor's office under the Lord Chamberlain. As such it does no more than sketchily represent the play as performed. This is of course true of all play texts, but it is especially and acutely the case with works like this, whose life was intimately embedded in the situation of their writing and performance, and whose appearance in manuscript was no more than a gesture towards legal requirements. This text was never intended as even a blueprint for the real thing; its purpose was only to reassure the authorities that nothing seditious was intended. What actually happened at the Sans Pareil, with the collaborating cast of performers and the regular, knowing, participatory audience who approved of the play, can only be grasped by regarding the ensuing text as a set of clues, whose life is to be found or recreated on the stage.

Consequently, it was agreed that our text of Whackham and Windham was going to be a full, plain-text file of the play, as well as a lightly edited version, coded in HTML and broken down into acts and scenes for easier access. I am assuming that this audience is already well-aware of the problematics of both electronic editing and reading from the screen.


Our principal aim at the BWP1800 project is to make some plays available for teaching and discussion, in some cases for the first time since their original performances, as is true for Whackham and Windham, or since their first and only publication without any instances of recorded performances during the author's lifetime, as in the case of Elizabeth Inchbald's play The Massacre: Taken from the French. A Tragedy of Three acts. Danny O'Quinn has written an introductory essay that illustrates the important political issues at work in The Massacre, and we hope that the wider availability of the play and O'Quinn's essay will together foster further interest in the play. This leads me to the second major section of the BWP1800 site, and the spirit of discussion and scholarly exchange that we hope to generate.



When Tom and I began this project, it was clear that we wanted lots of input from various scholars on the usefulness of such a site, its potential, and its future. The lack of printed texts of plays written by women playwrights was one of the motivations behind providing electronic texts, but the lack of funding was clearly going to prevent us from offering dozen of plays within the first two years. We also wanted to pursue the genuine spirit of discussion that we had witnessed at the two MLA sessions Tom had organised in Toronto and San Francisco. So we invited scholars to present their works online, accompanied by a response written by another scholar in order to invite further discussion. The recent addition of a Bulletin Board section will, we hope, also foster discussion.


The 'Essays' section currently contains six pieces, dealing with issues ranging from the difficulties of teaching theatrical texts and the usefulness of the electronic medium [see Kate Newey's piece, and Crochunis' response] to the technical aspects of editing plays. To make a text available in 'simple', straight-forward HTML coding is one thing; to offer a full-blown SGML coding is another, especially when questions of timing and funding are involved. Lauryn Mayer and Julia Flanders discuss their work at the Brown Women Writers project and the complexity of coding plays in SGML versus the coding of poems and novels. Kathryn Sutherland responds to their essay by questioning further the problematic of electronic editing and the importance of the role of the editor. I outline our plan for the electronic archive of Joanna Baillie's play De Monfort, which is to include scanned images of playbills and actors, and QuickTime videos of some scenes from the play. Our most recent update is a dialogue between Judith Pascoe, Bruce Graver, and Thomas C. Crochunis about the project, its potential pitfalls, the importance of maintaining peer-reviewed, high-standard materials amidst the sea of texts that the World Wide Web offers, and its use for academics unfamiliar with electronic technology.



This section provides a listing of articles, books, and collections of essays dealing with women playwrights and Romantic drama, as well as works dealing with humanities computing and electronic editing. New items are constantly added to the bibliography, which remains in-progress to reflect the growing interest in this field and the expansion of the BWP1800 project. We hope that academics and students will find references to works as yet unknown to them, and that they will also tell us of missing references that should be included.


I will conclude this brief presentation in saying that Tom and I are very happy with the interest the project has generated so far, though we are still unclear about its exact future, but this is in my view probably a good thing. We are obviously keen to hear what you think.

Michael Eberle-Sinatra
St. Catherine's College, Oxford