Handlists made handier

I have been down a deep deep rabbit hole for the last week or two trying to get my XML-tagged versions of Allardyce Nicol’s two Handlists into shape. Here is an interim report.

What is an entry?

One problem has to do with the actual content of Nicoll’s Handlists. What exactly do they list? Although this is essentially a record of performances, it is organized very much by author. There are, for example, about 30 entries which don’t refer to any specific play, but are merely there to indicate the preferred form of an author’s name: like this one

<entry>“LAWRENCE, SLINGSBY.” See G. H. LEWES</entry>

Multiple authorship is also a problem. An entry like this one is straightforward enough:

<entry type="D."><author>ANDERSON, JAMES R. </author><title>The Robbers </title><note type="perf" >D.L. 21/4/51</note>. L.C. D.L. 26/12/45.</entry>

Inter alia, this tells us that there was a performance of a drama called “The Robbers” at Drury Lane theatre on 21 April 1851, and that the author of the piece is recorded to be James R. Anderson.

But there are also entries like this one:

<entry type="F."><author>ATWELL, E. </author><title>A Stuffed Dog </title><note type="perf">Park. H. Camden Town, 2/11/89</note>. See J. A. KNOX.</entry>

This one tells us that “A Stuffed Dog”, written by E. Atwell, was making them roar at the Park Theatre in Camden Town in November 1889. If we look for Mr J. A. Knox, we find another entry, apparently for the same performance:

<entry type="F."><author>KNOX, J. ARMORY </author><title>A Stuffed Dog </title><note type="perf" >Park H. Camden Town, 2/11/89, copy.</note>. L.C. [Written in collaboration with E. ATWELL .]</entry>

On the face of it, if I want to determine how many Farces are listed in the Handlists, for example to determine the waxing or waning of this particular type of performance over time, I need to be wary of cases like this one, where a single farce has multiple authors, and therefore gives rise to multiple entries: both these entries refer to a single performance, so should only be counted once.

How serious a problem is this? Out of 25 thousand- plus entries, (25,632 to be exact) I find that there are 1346 entries containing the word “collaboration” and 1738 containing the word “See ”. Most, but not all, of them point to a collaboration entry which references the same performance of the same play. There are only two entries in which the word “See ” really appears as part of a title, but there are maybe a dozen or more other types of cross references, for example to plays renamed or whose authorship Nicoll has resolved. The number of cross references which go nowhere or to an entry which documents a different title or performance is unknown, but not zero. I spent some time trying to check automatically but did not finish: other bits of the rabbit hole (like checking and fixing OCR errors in the dates) seemed more useful.

Although ostensibly organized by author, about half the entries in the Handlists record performances for which there is no author. (10,374 out of 25,662 entries to be precise). Usually, but not always, distinct entries are given for the same title performed on different occasions or at different venues – but occasionally an entry will provide a list of performances: like this

<entry type="C.O."><author>MANCHESTER, G. </author><title> The School Girl </title><note type="perf">Grand, Cardiff, 2/9/95; Stand. 14/10/95</note>. L.C. [Music by A. Maurice.]</entry>

I have not checked, but I suspect that this happens when a play has its first performance in the provinces: in this example, we may conjecture that “The School Girl” went down well enough in Cardiff for the management to risk bringing it to the Standard in Shoreditch a month later.

What sort of play is this?

Nicoll thoughtfully provides lists of the abbreviated codes he uses to indicate “the nature of the play itself” for both the Handlist 1800-1850 and the Handlist 1850-1900. There are a few codes present in only one or other of the two lists (B.O. for Ballad Opera is in the earlier list only, for example). An investigation of his usage of these codes over the two hand lists indicates the justice of the warning he also provides that “these designations are in no way final, and are often indefinite”. The two lists propose a total of 87 different codes including some very general categories (D for drama, F for Farce, P for Pantomime etc.) as well as many more nuanced classifications such as “Military Drama”, “Operatic Drama”, “Poetic Drama” “Romantic Comedy”, “Romantic Comedy Drama”, and “Romantic Drama”. Nicoll further remarks “Where possible, the designation employed in the original bills has here been followed” – so we should take these characterisations as indicative of the language in which Victorian Theatre chose to describe itself, not as a formally organized taxonomy.

I did some counting up of the actual usage of these codes, and found a further 23 codes not specified in either list. However, most of these are used very infrequently : less than 10 times for all except two of them. The exceptions are the emdash which is used for 15 entries that describe non performance items such as published collections of plays and the code “Bsq. O.” which is used for 22 entries, all of them presumably “burlesque operas”.

For what it’s worth, here’s a colourful camembert to show the distributional statistics of these categorisations. Of the 110 different codes used, more than half (64) are used fewer than 10 times. Or, to put it another way, the top six codes between them account for 17,242 out of the total nunber of 25,632 entries – over 67%.; the top eight codes (labelled in the picture) account for more than three-quarters of the whole population.

My next project will be to see if these proportions change significantly over time.


OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
foxglove (28 janvier 2024). Handlists made handier. Foxglove. Consulté le 21 juillet 2024 à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/vorb


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