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Open Shakespeare Out of Hibernation

openliterature - June 4, 2010 in Musings, News, Publicity, Releases, Uncategorized

Exam season is finishing, our free time is returning, and Open Shakespeare is coming back to life. We held a short meeting yesterday evening, and can now announce what we intend to do in the near future:

EXPAND: there will be an Open Shakespeare Party in Emmanuel Fellows’ Garden, Cambridge at 3pm on 14th June. Be there if you can, and if you can’t visit our newly refined ‘Get Involved’ page.

WRITE: the first round of introductions will soon be completed, but we want to welcome more submissions, especially if they build upon the work of previous writers.

BLOG: the Word of the Day feature will be back with us very soon, and will hopefully expand in terms of both writers and articles. The blog itself has already had a little bit of an overhaul, and some out-of-date material will be replaced over the coming weeks.

TEACH: following suggestions made at OKCON, we are proposing the use of Open Shakespeare as a classroom aid. Through this we help to raise the profile of the project, and offer a new way for school children to collaboratively engage with Shakespeare.

These are the main points of the meeting, whose minutes are available for perusal. It remains only for me to quote Nestor, in Troilus and Cressida, and say that this post is only a hint of what’s ahead, and yet…

in such indexes, although small pricks
To their subsequent volumes, there is seen
The baby figure of the giant mass
Of things to come at large.

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!


openliterature - March 15, 2010 in Musings, Technical, Texts

There’s a famous line in Hamlet: “O that this too too solid flesh would melt” (1.ii.129). Not only is it the start of an agonised soliloquy in which Hamlet tortures himself over his mother’s apparent desire for her dead husband’s brother, but it is also a line over which many generations of scholars have wrangled. You see, there are several different editions of Hamlet: a first quarto printed in 1603, and then another in 1604, before the folio edition appeared in 1623. The quartos (so named for being the size of a quarter of a sheet of paper) would normally be used for any critical text because they are the earliest. Unfortunately, the quartos for Hamlet are so corrupt that they can’t really be trusted. Nevertheless…they still might contain passages that are more correct than the folio, composed after Shakespeare’s death, ever could be.

To return to that line of Hamlet: the folio has ‘solid flesh’, but the first quarto has ‘sallied flesh’, and the second quarter has either ‘sallied’ or ‘sullied’. Each variant changes the way we see Hamlet.

But what does this have to do with Open Shakespeare? Well, this little example shows how important it is to have a reliable text for each play, especially now that we will be annotating and one day producing critical editions from them. Currently, we have the Gutenberg text of the first folio, although, like many other first folios, this text is actually a hodgepodge of other first folios recomposed sometime in the 18th Century. We also have the Moby Shakespeare, so called for the man who produced the most widely circulated digital version of Shakespeare’s plays – but without saying what edition he used…

Having consulted with a few professors here in Cambridge (credit where it’s due: the info about composite folios comes from Prof. Kerrigan), it appears that there is a first folio actually in Cambridge. If we could find a way of digitising it, this would be a great benefit to Open Shakespeare, establishing, if not a ‘perfect’ text (which, once the Globe and Shakespeare’s own playtexts burnt down during a performance of Henry VIII could never now be possible), at least one with some historical authority.

I have no idea how we will digitise the Cambridge folio, so any suggestions would be welcome. I heard once that a young Arthur Miller, in order to hone his play-writing skills, copied out almost all of Shakespeare’s plays by hand. So, if you’re an aspiring playwright with lots of time on your hands, do get in touch.

Word Cloud

openliterature - March 13, 2010 in Musings

What do you get when you combine with the most famous speech Shakespeare ever wrote? This:


Leave us a comment with your guess as to the speech and speaker …

Musings on Technology

openliterature - February 23, 2010 in Musings

I’ve just been reading my way through the transcript of Coleridge’s lectures on Shakespeare: they are an absolutely fascinating insight into past critical preconceptions, and contain the first seeds of many ideas we now take for granted, such as, for example, the psychological dilemma of Hamlet. Many of the most interesting moments in the lectures seem to come from the powerful combination of Coleridge’s mind and the medium of public speaking. This got me thinking, and wondering whether the introduction of new media to Shakespeare always has a role to play in new appreciations of the playwright. Shakespeare himself was sharply aware of the limitations and advantages of the Elizabethan stage, and translations of his plays to the cinema have led to new patterns of emphasis in his works. Who can forget the St Crispin day speech from Henry V in Olivier’s film?

The Open Shakespeare project is, to a large extent, introducing a new medium to Shakespeare criticism: the internet. Our annotation tools should go live soon, and soon anyone will be able to leave a record of their response to Shakespeare online. The advantage of the internet is to add an completely democratic input to the existing advantages of computer-based criticism: easy correction, the capacity to perform complex statistical analysis quickly, and many others. What the new breed of technocriticism will look like is anyone’s guess.

That said, there are already many blogs on Shakespeare, and each charts a personal and technologically-informed response to the playwright. Two you may like to visit are: 38:38, which follows the adventures of reading all 38 plays of Shakespeare in 38 days; and A Year of Shakespeare, where one man seeks to read the entirety of Shakespeare’s opus in a year, commenting on this and many other things along the way.

To return to Open Shakespeare, and our own plans for technocriticism, one must admit that there will of course be problems: some type of peer-review may be necessary to prevent people from spamming the plays, and certain elements of the site may need a modicum of protection. However, Wikipedia has met and surmounted these problems with a fair degree of success, so I can’t see why we could not do so too. For every problem, there is also an advantage, and one of the greatest is the flexibility of our working model.

All the technology for our site is ‘open‘, and we have many ideas on how to expand it. These include the incorporation of video, of recorded drama, and the possibility of a ‘My Open Shakespeare’. This latter project would allow everyone to create their own collection of favourite or useful quotations into an anthology that they could access at any time, anywhere in the world. They may even be able to then make use of the fast-growing ‘print-on-demand’ industry to produce their own Shakespeare Anthology as a tool or a gift. Once annotation begins in earnest, we shall ourselves aim to produce the first ‘Open Knowledge Shakespeares’: drawing on the knowledge of the online community to produce the first democratic editions of Shakespeare, whose models anyone could download and print.

These are just a few of the possibilities available to us: do get in touch if you have suggestions of your own, or would like to help realise these ambitions. I feel Coleridge would have had a lot to say about this project, and I’ll finish with one of his most laudatory claims for Shakespeare.

Shakespeare built upon everything that was absolutely necessary to our existence, and consequently must be permanent while we continue men.