“Jumping o’er times”: An Update on Open Shakespeare

May 6, 2011 in Shakespeare, Uncategorized

Did you know that the word “jointress”, used by Claudius to describe his new wife and Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is an Elizabethan legal term for a widow who owns property from her first marriage? I didn’t, until a contributor to Open Shakespeare made use of the site’s annotator tool to leave a comment on Hamlet during one of the two ‘annotation sprints’ organised by the project over the last few months.

That annotation on Elizabethan law is just one example out of – currently – over four hundred annotations submitted to the website, around three hundred of which are on Hamlet, chosen by vote as our flagship annotation project, and the rest on a diverse selection of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, tragedies and romances. We hope to gather many more such contributions over the months to come, and continue to improve the annotator, which now sports a useful ‘tagging’ feature, soon allowing users to sort through annotations.

As well as gathering annotations, we have almost reached the conclusion of our efforts to publish a short introduction for every one of Shakespeare’s works. Thirty-one specially-written short pieces are already online, composed by volunteers ranging from an emeritus professor at Berkeley to a film actor from Cambridge. Along with these shorter pieces, we are beginning to accumulate longer critical essays: one on ‘Shakespeare and the City’, and another on Macbeth, kindly provided by John Boe at UC Davis.

As Open Shakespeare has grown, we have attracted some media attention. TCS (The Cambridge Student newspaper) published an article on our work in February, and a local radio station reported on our first annotation sprint. We were also invited to give a talk at the British Library as part of a series of staff talks on textual analysis at the end of February, an event which proved to be a great chance to receive new suggestions for the future direction of the project.

In the months to come, we look forward to expanding from Open Shakespeare to Open Literature, allowing users to apply our tools, and especially to annotate a wider range of authors. As annotations accumulate on Shakespeare, we also hope to publish a hardback Open Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare’s plays, on the model of the prototype, annotation-less edition prepared for OKCON 2010.

If any of this is of interest to you, please do join our ‘open literature’ mailing list, follow us on twitter, or get in touch through the website.

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