Understanding the Database
Below you find a list of all the data-fields used within the database. The list provides you will a summary of what the terms mean, and any decisions which have been made around how to record the data within the database. If you have any questions about this please get in touch.
Language Warning – Please be aware that the language used by the Examiners of Plays and by playwrights may contain terms, phrases, and attitudes which are now considered racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive. When reading the material is important to understand that this language had different meanings in the early twentieth century and was rarely considered offensive. As such it can provide an important insight into attitudes and ideas from the early twentieth-century.
The Examiner of Plays – The job of the Examiner of Plays was to read each play and advise the Lord Chamberlain on whether it was fit to be performed. There were two Examiner of Plays during the Great War, George Street and Ernest Bendall. When looking at a play entry in the database you will find the name of the Examiner who licensed that play at the bottom of the ‘Examiner of Plays’ Comments’.
Titles – The title used for each play is the title which the play was licensed under. Occasionally play titles were changed by the playwright or by the Examiner, during the process of licensing. In other cases plays were licensed under one title but performed under a different title. Where other titles are associated with the play, these are given in square brackets and a clarification is provided in the ‘Notes’ box.
War Themed Plays: The decision over whether a play has a war theme is not always simple. We have chosen to distinguish between four different types of war-themed plays as follows:
- “Yes” (Plays which are directly about the war)
- “Yes – Slight” (Plays which have references or connections to the war in them, but might be primarily about something else)
- “Yes – Songs”(Plays which have war-themed songs in them, but are not themselves about the war. In some cases there may be slight references or jokes in addition to songs)
- “Yes – Thematic” (Plays which are not directly about the war, but which might be about related topics, such as previous wars, or relations with other nations)
- “No” – In most cases this will mean that the play has no references to the war, directly or indirectly. However, as we have not been able to read every single script from start to end, there may be instances where a slight reference to the war, or a song, is included in a play which is identified in the database as not being war themed.
- “Unknown” – In some cases the script, and/or the Examiner of Plays’ comments is missing from the British Library collection. In other cases the script is handwritten and has not yet been read. In these instances there may be no clear evidence to judge whether, or to what extent the play is about the war. We have therefore used “unknown”.
Licensed Performance – The licensed performance gives the theatre and date of the first intended performance when the script was licensed for performance. In most, but not all instances, this is after the date of licence. The licensed performance date is identified separately to other performances in the list of performances given for each play, because in some instances we have not been able to find evidence to prove that the licensed performance took place, or because after being licensed the play was then premiered at a different theatre. If the only performance showing for a play is the licensed performance, this is likely to be because the performance history of the play has not yet been researched by the project.
Date of Licence – This is the date on which the script was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain. It is given on the Lord Chamberlain’s stamp, or where there is no stamp, in the Register of Licensed Plays. In most, but not all instances, the licence date is before the date of performance.
Genre – Where possible we have used the genre descriptor given either by the Examiner of Plays in their comments, or by the author themselves. In some cases the descriptor given is unusually phrased. For ease of searching and comparison, we have standardised these descriptors using more familiar terms e.g. comedy. Where no descriptor was available we have chosen the most appropriate generic descriptor.
Keywords – Keywords are not given in the original records or documents. Our team of volunteers have put together a list of keywords to assist in searching and browsing the database. These keywords chosen are based on the interests of the volunteers and what we hoped would be relevant to users of the database.
Names – Within the Lord Chamberlain’s records at the British Library the names of theatres and authors theatre appear with some variation across different plays. e.g. the Athenaeum in Glasgow appears as both the Athenaeum Theatre and the Athenaeum Hall. For the purposes of database searching we have standardised the names for each theatre and person. If you would like to know where this has happened, please contact us and we can provide the original data transcription.
Author Gender – Where possible we have identified the gender of the author within the database in order to allow users to search for male or female playwrights. Where only initials are given, or the name has no clear gender, we have put ‘unknown’. In most cases the assignment of a gender to the author has been based on the name, and there may therefore be instances where women were using pseudonyms but this has not yet been identified.
Examiner of Plays’s Summary – The Examiner of Plays’ Summary is transcribed directly from the records in the British Library Manuscripts Collection. It is the summary of the play written by the Examiner after reading the play, and in which they summarise the plot and identify any issues regarding licensing. Summaries have been transcribed for all war-themed plays, but only for some plays which are not war-themed. This is due to the volume of plays being covered by the project, with priority being given to war-themed ones. Where summaries are only available in handwritten form they have not always been transcribed.
Male and Female Characters – Where possible we have listed the number of male and female characters in the play. This gives an indication of the roles available for men and women. It must be noted however that this does not always relate to the number of male and female performers required by the script, or who performed in the play, since performers may have cross-dressed (women playing male roles) or doubled roles (one actor playing two roles). In some cases, where this is directly referred to in a case list (e.g. “Mable and Joan are played by the same actress”) we have also indicated the number of actors required in square brackets. Male and Female characters have not been listed in pantomimes due to the frequent use of cross-dressing, or for plays where the character names make it difficult to identify gender.
Scenes – Where possible we have listed the length of the play in acts and scenes, as listed by the playwright or by the Examiner. This may be useful in giving an indication of the length of the play. Where the descriptor for the length of play is given in unusual terms, we have standardised this to acts and scenes for ease of searching, and where possible have indicated this in the Notes field.
Reference – This is the reference for the box in which the play is stored at the British Library. It is also the reference you need in order to order the play to read it at the British Library (see reading the original play). An example is: LCP1914/28. LCP stands for Lord Chamberlains’ Plays (i.e. the collection at the British Library). This is followed by the year the play was licensed (1914 in this example) and the box number (28 in this example). Originally, when the plays were licensed by the Lord Chamberlain’s office they were bound together in volumes. Today, most of the plays have gone through a process of preservation at the British Library. Instead of being bound in volumes, they are now stored in individual folders (one per play) in a box. The box retains the same number as the original volume.
Classmark – This is the manuscript classmark given to each play at the British Library. Each play has its own individual classmark. It will be a number followed by a letter, e.g. 66124 C. The number will be the same for every play in the same box. However each play within the box will have a different letter, based on the order in which the plays were originally licensed.