The Osborne Project

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In 1972, the University of Calgary Library Special Collections purchased a collection of rare books and manuscripts from the English antiquarian Edgar Osborne. Among them was an early dramatic manuscript with no title, date or named author. In 2004, an interdisciplinary group of faculty, librarians and graduate students undertook a study of the play, a five act “country comedy,” and determined, through paleography, codicology and a study of the play as an artifact of social and linguistic history, that it was composed in the first half of the seventeenth century. As well, the influence of Shakespeare and seventeenth-century city comedy are unmistakable. Though the play is not extant in printed form, an earlier, heavily worked over draft version of the manuscript is held at Arbury Hall, Warwickshire (and was named The Humorous Magistrate in 1988 by T. Howard-Hill). Osborne records that he purchased the Calgary manuscript at Watnall Hall, Nottinghamshire, not forty miles from Arbury Hall. With the support of SSHRC, three teams of scholars, devoted to theatre history, textual and manuscript studies, and performance studies have pursued a broad range of research questions about these two manuscripts (and indeed the three other anonymous plays bound in the Arbury Hall miscellany) and the theatrical activity they appear to imply.