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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.


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 of the Day: Shark

openliterature - March 12, 2010 in Texts, Word of the Day

Admittedly, ‘shark’ is not the first word one associates with Shakespeare, but both the noun and the now obsolete verb were used by the Bard. The noun crops up as one of the ingredients for the witches’ potion in Macbeth:

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf,
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark.  (4i)

To be specific and to use the OED, it is the mouth (maw) and throat (gulf) of a shark glutted with prey (ravin’d) that the witches specifically require.

As for the verb, it is Horatio in Hamlet who uses the word to describe Fortinbras’ rabble-rousing efforts:

Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Shark’d up a list of lawless resolutes… (1i)

He goes on to  emphasise the voracious qualities of the animal and, by extension, of Fortinbras’ soldiers. The only other use of the word as a verb similarly plays upon the sense of man giving in to his animal cravings, as Thomas More tells a crowd that if they give in to such cravings they will only become victims of more violent men.

For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another…

Thomas More is a collaborative work, and one in which critics believe Shakespeare participated, contributing this speech. The evidence? Amongst other things, his use of the word ‘shark’.

Word of the Day: Capon

openliterature - March 5, 2010 in Texts, Word of the Day

Keeping with the food theme, today’s word is capon. Still a popular dish in France and elsewhere on the continent, it is no longer enjoyed as much in Britain as it was in Shakespeare’s time. To be precise, a capon, according to the OED, is a castrated cockerel, overfed,and served as a delicacy.

Hamlet, Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Cymbeline…all contain a capon. Falstaff is particularly fond of the dish: Poins finds a bill for  two shillings and two pence worth of capon in Falstaff’s pocket, and Hal, teasing his old friend, rhetorically asks of him,

Wherein is he good, but to taste sack and drink it?
Wherein neat and cleanly, but to carve a capon and eat it?

Given Falstaff’s breezy relation with the law, it’s a little ironic that Jacques, in As You Like It, has capon down as a dish to be enjoyed in the fifth stage of a man’s life,

And then the Justice
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes a severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances…

That’s all for this week. More wise saws coming soon!

Word of the Day: Baker

openliterature - February 27, 2010 in Texts, Word of the Day

One of the raving Ophelia’s most mysterious lines goes:

Well, God dild you! They say the owl was a baker’s daughter. (4.v)

Ever wonder what she’s talking about?

This is a reference to popular the medieval legend of Jesus asking for a loaf at a baker’s. The folk story tells us that the mistress then dutifully put one in the oven for him, but the daughter said it was too large and halved it. However, it swelled to an enormous size, and the daughter was transformed into an owl as a punishment. Reference to the legend here is possibly also related to discussion of gratitude and ingratitude; in addition, the metamorphosis, which in Ovid often happens to a woman after some kind of sexual trauma, is linked to Ophelia’s unsure position and degeneration into madness.

And now you know! (courtesy of Jude and Colette)

Shakespeare en Français

openliterature - February 9, 2010 in News, Texts

Bonsoir tout le monde,

If you’ve ever wondered what Hamlet looks like in French, you can now find out via the Open Shakespeare website. The standalone text, based on Guizot’s translation of Shakespeare can be found here.

If you want to see how good a job Guizot did, you can compare the English Hamlet with the French one here.

There’s some work to do on streamlining the system to make uploading further translations a bit easier, but hopefully one day you’ll be able to trace Shakespeare’s progress around the globe through our website. (Please forgive the pun).

Pour l’instant, amusez-vous bien de Hamlet!

Proof-Editing Shakespeare Entry from Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition

Open Knowledge International - September 19, 2007 in Texts

Since the previous post we’ve succeeded in using tesseract and we now have a nice plain text version of the EB entry on shakespeare:

What we now need to do is ‘proof’ this to correct the OCR errors. This kind of think is perfect for distributed volunteers so if you’d like to help out just step up and starting correcting with one of the sections. To make it especially easy for people to make edits the text has in a temporary location on the Open Knowledge Foundation wiki (only the first five pages for the time being):

OCRing Shakespeare Entry from Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition

Open Knowledge International - August 14, 2007 in Technical, Texts

One of next things we want to do for open shakespeare is provide an open introduction for to his works. The obvious idea for this was to use the Shakespeare entry in the 11th ed of the Encyclopaedia Britannica as detailed in this ticket:

We’ve now written code to grab the relevant tiffs off wikimedia:

You can also find them online (28 pages) starting at:

Next step is to then OCR this stuff (after that we can move on to proofing whether by ourselves or via When we first had a stab at this back in April we tried using gocr. Unfortunately the results were so bad that they were unusable. Recently an old ocr engine of HP’s has been released as open source under the name of tesseract:

We’re going to have a go using this — though if there is anyone out there with access to an alternative system we’d love to hear about it.