Online Editions of Shakespeare

January 15, 2011 in Community, Musings, Technical, Texts

The story of Shakespeare on the internet is a tangled tale, and this post is an attempt to unravel it. In expounding the advantages and shortcomings of online editions, I hope also to explain a few of the problems Open Shakespeare faces.

##Editions Used by Open Shakespeare

Every work on the Open Shakespeare website has three possible texts, and it is worth explaining their provenance here in detail:

GUTENBURG FOLIO – These are drawn from Project Gutenberg, with the editorial prefaces removed. Nothing else has been changed. The Gutenberg scanner claims that the text “is as close as I can come in ASCII to the printed text,” however it is important to record here several features of his methodology.
– Some spelling “mistakes” have been corrected according to a dictionary created from the spellings of the Geneva Bible and Shakespeare’s First Folio.
– Typos and abbreviations have also been “corrected”
– “Elongated S’s have been changed to small s’s and the conjoined ae have been changed to ae.”
– The actual text itself is composite, made from “30 different First Folio editions’ best pages”

GUTENBERG – Again taken from Project Gutenberg, this time from a more fully edited edition, with a cleaner layout, and the inclusion of 18th century stage directions. Open Shakespeare, as is usual for us, has removed all the prefatory material but kept the edited text as is. Unfortunately, nothing is disclosed about the process of editing or the source texts used except for the single phrase “This etext was prepared by the PG Shakespeare Team, a team of about twenty Project Gutenberg volunteers.”

MOBY – This text comes from the most widely available online edition of Shakespeare, of whose advantages and shortcomings there is a useful summary on the Open Source Shakespeare website.

##Other Online Editions: ISE and Wordhoard


The principle website for online editions of Shakespeare is ISE (Internet Shakespeare Editions) where the following are offered, taking their entry for Hamlet as an example:

TEXT EDITIONS – These cover modern spelling and unmodified spelling versions based on the first folio and quarto 1 and 2, all of which have been edited. In the case of *Hamlet* this editing has been done by David Bevington, a scholar of some note. For other editions, the editors are less well known, and in many cases there has not yet been a peer review.

FACSIMILES – This is perhaps the real strength of ISE: several different First Folios have been scanned, and the results are very impressive. They also have facsimiles of the 1603 and 1604 quartos of Hamlet.

ANNOTATED EDITIONS – One of these does not yet exist for *Hamlet*, but David Bevington has again produced a useful peer-reviewed edition of *As You Like It*, on which one can toggle his annotations and record of collations.

COPYRIGHT – Everything on the ISE is under a variety of copyrights. The copyright for the edited texts uis owned by the editor, and the images that make up the facsimiles have a rather ambiguous copyright situation, depending on their source. Although, ISE state, “All items published on the site of the Internet Shakespeare Editions…may in all cases…be used for educational, non-profit purposes”, quite where an Open License website like our own fits in is deeply ambiguous, since material published on our website could feasibly be used for commercial purposes.


Provided by Northwestern University, this website provides a set of texts worthy to serve as definitive online editions of Shakespeare. Along with other authors’ works, one can download two versions of Shakespeare’s writings: one encoded in TEI, the other linguistically annotated – which is to say every word in the text is associated with a lemma and part of speech.

For me, the most exciting part of this project is the way in which these lemmatized texts can be manipulated. Northwestern University gives one example: a short program written to answer the question ‘Does Shakespeare use mostly the same vocabulary in each of his works, or does he use different vocabulary?’. I recommend visiting the website for the answer, and for a wealth of other little bits of information about Shakespeare’s vocabulary.

The copyright position of the wordhoard project is complicated. However, the website’s stance is far more ‘open’ than that of the ISE, so collaboration between Wordhoard and Open Shakespeare may be a possibility in the future.

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