By Janice Lee
The research team investigating the Osborne Collection manuscript play, an anonymous, undated and untitled five-act satirical comedy that has resided at the U of C’s Library Special Collections for decades, has made several key discoveries.
The team—an interdisciplinary group of faculty, librarians and graduate students led by Mary Polito from the Department of English—has determined the play was composed between 1637 and 1641. It has also uncovered an earlier version of the manuscript—also anonymous but written in a different hand—held at Arbury Hall in Warwickshire, England.
With the support of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant—the largest ever to be awarded in the Department of English—the researchers continue to pursue a broad range of questions.
Recent findings suggest the Osborne manuscript play was designed to be played in country locations and addresses concerns of the gentry class.
“Both versions of the manuscript were found at different country houses of midland gentry families, suggesting further evidence of such homemade ‘country comedies’,” says Polito. “The anonymity of the play suggests that the writer or writers saw their activity as in some way subversive in its criticism of government. Certainly the play is very critical of both local justice and of the king and parliament. It suggests that both do not do justice to country concerns.”
As well, the team has uncovered three linked plays in a collection of papers found with the Arbury Hall version. The three plays are written in the same hand, are anonymous and have never before been studied, published or compared.
“All of the plays were clearly influenced by London theatre and by Shakespeare’s work and yet appear to have been written at country homes by anonymous authors,” says Polito.
This year, the research team welcomed three new graduate students from the English department: Owen Stockden, Paul Faber, BA’07, and John Siddons.
“The new students bring a variety of skills and interests to the project, but the most important element is their passionate intellectual curiosity about what we can learn from this new material evidence,” says Polito.
In addition to reading the related plays, the students are studying 17th-century handwriting in preparation for delving into the archives of the midland families identified by the research team. They will travel to the U.K. in 2008 to continue this research in a number of small county records offices and various libraries.
With an international symposium to share research findings and celebrate the first print publication of the manuscripts scheduled for 2009, Polito is excited by what they have yet to discover about the Osborne play.