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Online Editions of Shakespeare

openliterature - 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.

Shakespeare and Media

openliterature - July 29, 2010 in Community, Musings, News, Publicity, Texts

I spent much of this afternoon perusing the materials available at Shakespeare’s Staging, after its director got in touch with Open Shakespeare. Amongst all the images of past productions, my favourite was one of the earliest: a drawing of Edward Kean as Bertram in All’s Well that Ends Well. I find you get a real sense of Bertram at a perhaps more unguarded moment, mouth closed, eyes set, yet also a little forlorn against the grey backdrop.

These pictures and videos got me thinking about something I said about Open Shakespeare’s annotation tool at OKCON, that by allowing people to digitally annotate we would collect and preserve a continuously evolving catalogue of responses to Shakespeare’s works. Shakespeare’s Staging has done something similar, but, whereas Open Shakespeare is concerned with the text, this site records the response of actors and directors to what Shakespeare wrote. Each performance is, after all, its own unique (re)presentation and interpretation of the text.

The overlap between our work is obvious, and the next step of the process seems clear. If we accept that Open Shakespeare should allow anyone to contribute and share their responses to Shakespeare, and if we decide that performance of a play is itself a response to Shakespeare, then our website should expand to allow records of performances to be included. Such records can exist in written form (I think of that Swiss doctor’s description of a performance of Julius Caesar in 1599), but also as images or videos. Each media in turn brings its own problems. A video recaptures the experience of one spectator, but is one spectator’s view representative of the whole audience’s experience? An image captures a moment, a mood, but gains its force through exclusion. Text can only appeal to the eyes and the ears via the brain.

Given the weaknesses of each medium as a record of responses to Shakespeare, the only reasonable conclusion is to adopt a composite approach. Discussion has begun on how best to do this given the current framework of Open Shakespeare, and if anyone reading this has anything to contribute, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

And because I cannot write a blog post without quoting Shakespeare, please allow me to point out one exquisite exchange between the Clown and the Countess worried about her son Bertram, lines which serve as hints for an actor’s behaviour, as much as recognition of the limitations of the written text.

> CLOWN Why, he will look upon his boot and sing; mend the ruff and sing; ask questions and sing; pick his teeth and sing. I know a man that had this trick of melancholy sold a goodly manor for a song. > > COUNTESS Let me see what he writes, and when he means to come.

Shakespeare’s Staging, and Open Shakespeare too, should let us see what Shakespeare writes in more ways than one.

Open Shakespeare at OKCON

openliterature - April 27, 2010 in Community, Musings, News, Texts

Last weekend was OKCON, and I delivered a 15 minute introduction to Open Shakespeare there. Little of what I said was new, and the real interest for me came from the discussions I had with other conference-goers during the day. A few of these discussions, and one or two presentations, have given me a several ideas for Open Shakespeare, which I shall outline briefly here.

Sören Auer, speaking on ‘Linked Open Data’, mentioned the beneficial effect that a ‘pingback’ service had provided to the blogosphere, helping to foster conversations and build networks of opinion. This made me wonder at the benefit such a tracking service would have for Open Shakespeare: if you were told when text you had annotated was annotated by someone else, you would have the chance to both share in the new contribution as well as discuss it. The system could also cover the critical introductions and would foster a more personal involvement in the site, which can only be a good thing. There is one downside: such ‘pingback’ services are vulnerable to spam, and Sören Auer was unable to sketch out a suitable response to this threat.

Tom Morris gave a presentation on ‘Citizendium’, whose modus operandi may have something to teach us when it comes to the writing of critical introductions. On Citizendium there is a fixed front article, behind which is a more fluid draft text. Such an arrangement allows both a space for rapid alterations and heated discussion at the same time as it protects the front matter from too extreme a modification, well-meaning or otherwise.

Away from the presentation, I had long discussions about printing the Open Shakespeare Editions with Ben O’Steen. One suggestion was that the problem of incorporating the annotations into the printed text could be solved with a script similar to that which converts blog comment into a printable format. Whatever the solution, some kind of tagging and annotation management system would probably be a prerequisite.

The last idea to come from OKCON (so far…) concerned widening the audience for Open Shakespeare. Several people recommended that we try and get school children involved, since the website could be a useful teaching tool, and encourage a new engagement with Shakespeare. Again, one hesitates to open the website to such a large audience without more means of managing annotations in place…but, still, a trial with just one class and one scene of a play seems to me something we could try right away…

Cardenio or Double Falsehood

openliterature - April 15, 2010 in Community, Musings, News, Releases

There’s been a bit of a stir in the Shakespearian community recently, what with the release of a new play by the Bard. To be fair, it is not quite so sensational as it sounds: the possibility that part of Cardenio or, as the Arden edition entitles it, Double Falsehood might be by Shakespeare goes back to at least the 18th Century.

What’s new is that textual and historical evidence is now available that confirms this play to be from some time in the early 17th century. It contains, for example, the word “absonant”, which is found only in texts by Shakespeare…and by his successor as writer for the King’s Men, Fletcher. Thus the play is most likely a collaborative work between the two, as was perfectly normal for the period. Other Shakespeare/Fletcher collaborations include King Henry VIII, and possibly parts of Pericles.

I post this news here because such a claim was only made possible thanks to advances in technology dealing with texts. New databases of texts make searches for references to a play far faster and easier, whilst new stylometric algorithms make the most of such databases to pick up minute differences in vocabulary usage that allow an author’s DNA to be distinguished. For the curious, Shakespeare uses “thee” and “hath“, whilst Fletcher, being fifteen years his junior, uses the more modern “ye“.

Perhaps one day, The Open Shakespeare Project will contribute to such breakthroughs. Until then, we have a separate issue to deal with: do we add Cardenio / Double Falsehood to our site?

What do you think? Could you write an introduction to it?

Shakespeare Quarterly part II

openliterature - April 6, 2010 in Community, Musings, Publicity, Technical, Texts

Here, for those interested, is my response to Professor Andrew Murphy’s article in the Shakespeare Quarterly:

“I am a member of the Open Shakespeare Project ( – not to be confused with Open Source Shakespeare) and found this article extremely interesting. I feel that your conclusion points towards many of the approaches to Shakespeare that our project incorporates, and that are part of a more ’social’ approach to Shakespeare.

It occurs to me that as well as spreading Shakespeare to a far larger audience, cheap editions of Shakespeare are also a godsend for students, who may write their thoughts all over their pages without fear of ruining something expensive. If all these scribbles were collected, a formidable body of knowledge of Shakespeare would be available, as would an evolving record of responses to this writer.

Our site has recently acquired the ability for anyone to annotate Shakespeare’s works, and soon will add the capacity to attribute, tag, sort, and hide the annotations made. With this we hope to create an ‘open’ edition of Shakespeare’s plays that would grow along similar lines to Wikipedia, harnessing the power of the internet to bring many minds to bear upon a single subject.

Such problems as found with the OSS still pose difficulties for us: we have to use Moby as a source text since all others, including (lamentably) the wordhoard text, are under copyrights that conflict with our Open license. Nevertheless, just as textual problems are flagged up in a critical edition with a footnote, so too could such problems be drawn to the reader’s attention through annotation. As Whitney Trettien’s article points out, the web comes into its own when it is an ‘expressive medium’ itself, and not one which, like the OSS, unthinkingly delivers content.

Essentially, ISE already has this kind of thinking process, displaying an editor’s annotation on each text right down to the textual variants. It even has the ability to sort such annotations. However, the problems you identify – different kinds of editing, slow progress, uneven quality – all inevitably result, I feel, from the fact that each text only has a single editor. More editors would speed progress but it is not, of course, a given that more editors would improve quality. Wikipedia is still notorious for its occasional inaccuracies.

Nevertheless, such inaccuracies can be resolved by the same process that generates them. If anyone can annotate, so anyone can also review annotation and improve it. I realise that this is a rather utopian position and that people can as easily vandalise as beautify, but I feel it to be a more tenable one than that held by the websites here. The internet allows for unprecedented levels of input as well as appreciation, and such potential is not exploited by the sites reviewed in this article.

Talking of input and appreciation brings me to one further aspect of these sites that interests me, namely how easily one can print from them. The OSS shines in this respect, but attempting to print an ISE fascimile is rather more difficult. I must also admit that printing from an annotated text at The Open Shakespeare Project is currently impossible: the tool only went live fairly recently, and the site is still very much under construction. One day we hope to harness the accumulated and peer-reviewed annotations of many to produce a printed text, and thus complete a cycle between internet and ‘real world’ Shakespeare.

Such a cycle is ignored at the peril of digital scholarship, for it is the mix of real events and online responses to them that makes Facebook so addictive. Other addictive qualities, such as the relatively small time commitment and the chance to interact with other users could be profitably replicated by internet Shakespeare projects. After all, anything capable of sustaining those involved in the long task of making productive use of Shakespeare is always welcome and need not be to the detriment academic rigour.”

Here is the author’s reply:

James: thanks very much for this thoughtful and very interesting response to the review. I’ve had a quick look at your site and think it’s very interesting. It seems to me that you really are pushing forward with a Web 2.0 approach to things, making your site a good deal more interactive than the three I review here. I like the idea of building up a ‘database’ of annotations — and you’re right, of course: textual annotation might be a way round the problems of having to use an outdated source text. I still tend to worry about Wikipedia as a model, however. I always like to tell my students stories of humourous examples of deliberate tampering with Wikipedia, as a way of warning them off using it in their research (perhaps you may know what happened to Thierry Henry’s page, after France put Ireland out of the World Cup?). Will OSP be entirely ‘user governed’, or will you have some sort of ‘top down’ quality control mechanisms? Andy

The discussion raises some interesting issues. How bitesize and user friendly is our website? To what extent should ‘Open Shakespeare’ be user-governed? Any comments and suggestions you may have will be very welcome.

Shakespeare Quarterly

openliterature - April 2, 2010 in Community, Musings, News, Publicity

We received an email from The Shakespeare Quarterly a while back asking for our responses to an online edition of the journal, entitled “Shakespeare and New Media”. The articles cover everything from the online presence of Shakespeare institutions to the impact of video blogs about Shakespeare.

There is no review of our project on the site, but I have written a long comment to the 25th paragraph of Andrew Murphy’s article, ‘Shakespeare goes digital’, outlining the advantages of our social media approach to Shakespeare in relation to the other sites he has reviewed.

Do have a look, and leave any comments of your own. I shall probably try and write something in response to the Trettien article over the next few days, given that this article also focuses on new approaches to Shakespeare.

More words of the day shall also be forthcoming. I’m rereading Shakespeare’s tragedies at the moment and have had a few ideas for articles on the use of:


Let us know which ones you’d like to see!

Annotation is here!

openliterature - March 16, 2010 in Community, News, Releases, Technical, Texts

The fabled ability to annotate any text of Shakespeare is now part of the Open Shakespeare website! Massive thanks to Nick for all his work on something far too complex for me to even describe its complexity (apparently there were difficulties with there being ‘no TextRange in the DOM’).

Here’s how to get annotating:

  1. Click ‘read texts’ on the homepage.
  2. Scroll down to find your play of choice in the list and click on ‘annotate’.
  3. Find the line you wish to annotate, then highlight it, then click on the little notepad that appears.
  4. In the newly-present dialogue box, type your words of wisdom.
  5. Press enter to save your annotation and close the dialogue box.

Work has already begun on Hamlet, but feel free to annotate wherever you wish.

As to what you should write in an annotation, we currently have no guidelines: shorter is usually better, and, obviously, offensive comments will be removed – but apart from that, all insights and explications are very welcome.

Improvements to come include: restricting editing and deletion to the owner of each annotation, showing user information on annotations, the ability to filter annotations, and the capacity to use markdown in each comment.

Facebook, Newspaper Article, and Other Things

openliterature - February 15, 2010 in Community, News

The Open Shakespeare Project has been getting some more publicity recently: we have founded a facebook group, with an amazing picture; and a student newspaper, Varsity, has published an article on our work.

In other news, I need to point out that the translation of Hamlet published on the website is one dating from around 1830, and that we will be trying to get more modern translations up soon. That said, Guizot’s work, as well as being conveniently outside of copyright, is also interesting in its own right: it was one of the earliest unadulterated translations published in France, and both influenced and provoked future translators. Since then, there have been many more, and, doubtless, there are many more to come…

Look out for this week’s word of the week, courtesy of Colette and arriving soon!