Musings on Technology

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.

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