The Project “Theatronomics: the business of theatre, 1732–1809” is led by Professor David O’Shaughnessy, School of English and Creative Arts, NUI Galway, funded by a European Research Council Consolidator Grant awarded to Professor O’Shaughnessy.

Project Description

This project investigates the finances of eighteenth-century theatre in London, focusing on the two major theatres, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, 1732–1809. Account-books, ledgers, and ephemeral manuscript folios, held mainly at the British Library and the Folger Library, are the project’s main sources; they contain extensive data on ticket sales, audience composition, actor salaries, payments to other theatre workers, repayments to investors, costume, scenery and other costs.

The project will transcribe and digitize these manuscripts and will use econometric methods to analyse the theatres’ underlying commercial operations. The project will apply these economic methodologies so that new perspectives on the careers of managers, playwrights, actors, and plays emerge. By synthesizing this complex data, Theatronomics will further enable us, by interacting with other datasets, to ask new interdisciplinary questions about the place of theatre within the city of London. The project will develop innovative digital humanities resources for the next generation of eighteenth-century theatre studies.

There are 5 interdependent work packages:

  • Work Package 1:  Revenue 1 (mapping and analysing the revenues generated by plays/playwrights);
  • Work Package 2:  Revenue 2 (mapping and analysing the socioeconomic profile of theatre audiences);
  • Work Package 3:  Costs 1 (mapping and analysing actor salaries over the life-cycle of careers);
  • Work Package 4:  Costs 2 (mapping and analysing other costs e.g. advertising, administration, security, music, scenography);
  • Work Package 5:  The new theatre history (developing case-studies by correlating financial data/trends from the other work packages with external factors affecting attendance such as weather, military conflict, and parliamentary events).

The research team will comprise of the PI, 5 postdoctoral researchers, and a Research Assistant. They will be based in the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies, located in the Hardiman Research Building.


David O’Shaughnessy is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin (BA), NUI Galway (H.Dip, MA), and the University of Oxford (D.Phil). He has published widely on William Godwin, eighteenth-century theatre, and eighteenth-century Irish writing. His research has been supported by various grants and awards from bodies such as the Leverhulme Trust, IRC, British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Marie Skłodowska Curie actions, and the ERC. He has held early career/visiting fellowships at Oxford, Warwick, Caltech, the Huntington Library, and the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale. His current project ‘Theatronomics: the business of theatre, 1732-1809’ is funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant. He is also a general editor for Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith (8 volumes, forthcoming with Cambridge University Press).

David O’Shaughnessy
Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies
School of English & Creative Arts
NUI Galway

Project Details

Year(s): 2021

Funded By: European Research Council