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 early modern theatre is performed and received in the 21st century, not only by academics but also by the broader public and the acting community.

HOW DO WE DETERMINE THE GENDER OF EACH CHARACTER?: Characters are currently being marked based on the primary external expression and performance of gender provided by the text, which were written in a period in time when the public discourse surrounding gender was almost always framed within the confines of a female-male binary that stands at odds with the more nuanced contemporary understanding of gender as operating within a spectrum. In doing so we do not wish to invisibilise the existence of gender nonconforming people in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, which is why we are currently working on ways of allowing our data model more adequately to reflect the complexities of the gender spectrum.

WHAT PLAYS DO WE CHOOSE TO ANALYSE?: Following the generally accepted principles of open and democratic scholarship that govern most Digital Humanities projects, we strive to avoid paywalls and only to include texts that can be accessed freely online by everyone. We also prioritise texts that have already been previously formatted in universally accepted markup languages such as XML or HTML: all links to the digital editions used can be found in each play’s individual chart. Beyond that, we welcome all European dramatic texts written during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

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)