Making Early Modern “Verbatim Theater,” or, “Keep the Widow Waking”

  • Lucy MunroEmail author
  • Emma Whipday
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


This essay explores intersections between early modern plays and contemporary creative practice in approaching Dekker, Ford, Rowley and Webster’s “Keep the Widow Waking,” a domestic tragedy that draws on the legal proceedings surrounding the disturbing mistreatment of a rich widow, Anne Elsdon. The play was performed at the Red Bull playhouse, and is now lost, but legal records survive. Drawing on an workshop on “verbatim theater” at the London Shakespeare Centre, this essay examines the texts and performances that created the play and its archival traces, and introduces new material to the documentary record. We interrogate how the practices of verbatim theater might enable us to create a new approach to lost plays, using performance to illuminate a canon where the playtexts no longer survive.


Verbatim theater “Keep the Widow Waking” Thomas Dekker John Ford William Rowley John Webster True crime Practice as research Reconstructing lost plays Performance 



We would like to thank the contributors to “Early Modern Verbatim Theatre,” King’s College London, 6 May 2017, in particular Sylvan Baker, Simona Bitmate, Virginia Denham, Laura Gowing, Ben Hadley, Maggie Inchley, George Johnston, Harriet Madeley, and Andrew Murton, and the London Shakespeare Centre and the Department of English Creative Seed Fund for their financial support. We are also very grateful to Lauren Cantos, Kim Gilchrist, Jennifer Hardy, Suzanne Lawrence, Miranda Fay Thomas and Jennifer Young for helping us to transcribe the materials that informed that workshop and this essay.

Supplementary material

462789_1_En_14_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (397 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 43 kb)

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.King’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Newcastle UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK

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