What is Rolecall?

ROLECALL is an open-access online database that charts the speech of characters in European theatre during the Early Modern period (16th and 17th centuries). Such an instrument allows scholars and students of Renaissance and Baroque drama to trace and compare different dynamics of protagonism on the early modern European stage.

The idea behind developing this database stems from the research project Playing a Part: Writing, Performing and Recasting Gender in the Theatres of Early Modern England and Spain. Located at the intersection of theatre history, gender studies and Digital Humanities, the project comparatively explores the workings of gender, and more specifically the creation and representation of female roles, in the dramatic literature of early modern England and Spain. As is well known, one of the major differences between the two otherwise uncannily similar theatrical cultures of Shakespearean England and Golden Age Spain was that, whereas in England young cross-dressed boys played all female roles, in Spain professional actresses were familiar, even prominent figures on stage. That one country allowed while the other prevented women from actively participating in the theatrical process had a determining impact on the creation, representation and reception of female characters. And this is precisely where ROLECALL comes in: it allows users directly to visualise the proportions of lines female characters as opposed to male ones pronounce in the dramatic works of Shakespeare, Lope de Vega and their contemporaries.

By launching the ROLECALL research project we aspire to have a long-term impact on the way theatre is performed and received in the 21st century, not only by academics but also by the broader public and the acting community. Our initial goal is to document the gender of each character, but eventually we will develop more, and more sophisticated variables – such as the amount of speech-time the character is on stage, the gender of the individual(s) whom the speaker addresses, etc.– as well as a more nuanced understanding of identity that will include race and other markers as well as non-binary gender classifiers.

Research Team

  • COORDINATOR: David Amelang (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)
  • ‘WORDCOUNT’ SOFTWARE DEVELOPER: Pablo Ruiz Fabo (Université de Strasbourg)
  • RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Emiliana Russo (Sapienza Università di Roma)
  • DH ADVISOR: Tiago Sousa Garcia (Newcastle University)