(Rare Books & Manuscripts) Comprised chiefly of individual editions of English-language stage plays issued between 1594 and 1799, the
Boston Public Library's collection of early English playbooks is extensive and diverse. Numbering well over 1,500 items, the collection also includes masques, pageants, and other dramatic entertainments, as well as collections of plays.
Highlights include 9 quarto editions of Shakespeare's plays issued during his lifetime, including the first editions of Midsummer Night's Dream, opens a new window, Much Ado About Nothing, opens a new window, and The Merchant of Venice; all four 17th-century folio editions of Shakespeare's works, the 1616 Ben Jonson folio, opens a new window, the 1647 and 1679 Beaumont and Fletcher folios, the 1602 editions of Marston's Antonio's Revenge, opens a new window and Antonio and Mellida, and Cary's Tragedy of Mariam., opens a new window
Most of the items in this collection are found within the Thomas Pennant Barton Collection, opens a new window, though many are held elsewhere within the department.
Those items that have been electronically cataloged are retrievable through either of the online catalogs, opens a new window via a title search for Early English Playbooks, 1594-1799. Filtering for "online collections" will retrieve only those items that have been digitized. Additionally, the main collections page, opens a new window can be accessed through the Internet Archive.
As of 2018, the online portion of this collection represents the most substantial open-access repository of digitized early English playbooks available online. Many items in the collection are yet to be electronically cataloged or digitized. (Rare Books & Manuscripts, opens a new window)