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Shakespeare’s Birth and Shakespeare’s Death

- May 1, 2012 in Essay, Musings, News, Review

This post was published by the Royal Shakesepare Company as part of their ‘Happy Birthday Shakespeare’ collection.

Shakespeare's GraveThe date of an author’s death is always more important than that of his birth. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be celebrating Shakespeare’s entry into the world, but rather that we must not lose sight of the importance of his exit, itself taking place (perhaps) fifty-two years to the day after the Bard’s birth. Given that it is possible that Shakespeare, like Cassius in his Julius Caesar, died on his birthday, I will therefore take this occasion to wish him, simultaneously, Happy Birthday and, I suppose, Happy…errr…Anniversary. I have my reasons for this.

You see, I’m interested in copyright. The death of the author is more important than his birth because it is, in many jurisdictions, from this moment that we now measure the time before the author’s works enter into the public domain. Of course, Shakespeare was born, wrote and died at a time when copyright law was rather different, but this certainly doesn’t mean that he has escaped the web of regulations that have governed texts over the years.

Walker's defence of his actions (click for a larger image)

Were it not for the copyright-infringing actions of a part-time printer, part-time seller of home remedies (one Robert Walker), actions that forced a price war and put cheap editions of Shakespeare out on the streets of eighteenth-century London, we probably wouldn’t be celebrating William’s birthday (or, in my case, his death) now. These cheap editions made Shakespeare well known to all, a theatrical commodity at a time when theatres were beleagured and were in desperate need of a name that was “no doubt marketable”. From there, thanks to Garrick, Pope, Voltaire, and many others, the rest is history…and more copyright disputes.

Even though Shakespeare died three hundred and ninety-six years ago, many of his plays are still in copyright. This is not because Shakespeare has become legally immortal, but rather because we have no unquestionably authoritative texts for any of his plays. Instead, every editor decides whether Hamlet wants his “solid”, “sullied” or “sallied” flesh to melt, copyrights his choice and its explanation, and charges all and sundry for the use of his text. A set quantity of years after that editor’s departure from this world, his text becomes free to use. As a result, full access to the latest, most academically-rigorous texts of Shakespeare is always the length of a copyright term away from the those who do not or cannot pay for the privilege.

This is important. Take the visualisations on the RSC’s My Shakespeare website, as an example. The emotional colouring of King Lear may well look a bit different if we follow either a quarto-based or a folio-based edition of the play. Similarly, the quotes used in Branagan’s ‘Shakespeare by Chance’ are obviously dependant on the latest critical readings of a textual crux. Visualisations based on up-to-date texts are thus still a long way off, since Shakespeare is always evolving, each editor and publisher giving his words new life, and thus – to look at it a different way – a new birthday, a new future death, and, following that event, a new distant entry into the public domain.

This is, however, changing. On 23rd April 2012, fittingly enough, released a modern, critically-rigorous and machine-readable, edition of Shakespeare’s works, choosing to remove all copyright restrictions from the start. Of course, their text will one day be superseded by new literary discoveries, but it certainly brings the public, analysable, free Shakespeare forward by no “small time”. More scrupulous visualisations are of course now possible, but, beyond this, one hopes for larger things.’s text has the potential to change Shakespeare’s online presence, currently dominated by the out-of-copyright 1898 Moby edition, digitised in 1993.

Even more importantly, it might make us think before we cut and paste what purports to be the Bard on the internet: whose Shakespeare is this? and, ultimately, whose Shakespeare are we wishing Happy Birthday to?

‘Touching this vision’: Comments on Producing Shakespeare Visualisations

- April 27, 2012 in Community, Essay, Musings, Technical, Texts

This post is written by Pat Lockley, who has put together a set of data visualisations for both Shakespeare‘s plays and Middleton‘s. These public-domain visualisations were discussed on Open Shakespeare recently, and Pat has kindly written the following description of his own methodology, with some thoughts on how such e-resources are perceived.

I’ve worked in either e-learning or education now for over five years – and one of the main things I have often noticed is the time and effort required to make new resources. People often dream of having a magical button that will make e-learning materials for you, but this, surprisingly perhaps, still remains very much a pipe dream. Often though, as a developer (I am more developer than scholar, or even teacher), you find something in a form which can be converted in order to create e-learning resources. If we ignore the idea that all elearning has to be drag and drop activities or quizzes, then there is a lot of material on the internet from which teaching materials can be made.

So where did the Shakespeare idea come from? Well, I found the text at, and noticed that the web pages had a
structure to them: you could see in the underlying HTML who was a speaker, the act, the scene and what the line number was. Hence I didn’t have to do anything with the HTML, bar write a little bit of code to read it and turn it into a database. Effectively, this code was looking for repeating patterns in the HTML, and then converting them into entries to store in a database.

Now that I had the text in a database, I could write queries on the database to extract and present the data in a variety of ways. All of the data and code was written by me, and some of it is now online on the OKF’s Datahub and GitHub. I’d also be interested in hearing if people would like the data served in any other way. As I said at the start of this blog, people seem to like magic buttons which do all the hard work, and so perhaps making the data available isn’t that helpful for a general audience? Further, I’d like to think that maybe there is some scope in building services around the text, but again, as someone who isn’t a Shakespeare scholar or teacher I think I’d struggle to come up with useful ones in advance.

Shakespeare Visualised

- April 7, 2012 in Community, Essay, Musings, Technical, Texts

How can computers read Shakespeare? It’s a tricky one, not least because ‘reading Shakespeare’ is a bit of a tricky term: I am certain that everyone who reads a Shakespeare play or poem (let alone seeing them performed), reads them in a different way, with different associations and preferences running through their neurons. If ‘reading Shakespeare’ is such a personal, human thing, then it may well be fair to say that computers are not very well equipped to do it. That said, some recent, public domain images by Pat Lockley, entitled ‘The Science of Shakespeare’ present an interesting way to rethink the relation between computers and the act of reading Shakespeare. A computer cannot in any way read as a human does, but that does not make its contribution worthless. Instead, it makes a computer’s reading of Shakespeare something complementary, something that might challenge or confirm our own impressions of Shakespeare.

One thing that many of the images do, for example, is to flatten Shakespeare: the ‘Shakespeare Connections’ sequence shows us who speaks to whom over the course of the play but not at what times; similarly, the ‘Shakespeare Fingerprints’ sequence shows us when someone speaks, but not to whom. When a human reads a play, these two dimensions, the moment and the direction of a speech, cannot easily be filtered out, and I’m yet to find the human reader capable of mapping in his notebook such images as the ‘Science of Shakespeare’ pages provide. In this respect the computer’s view is unique, because non-human.

Let us concentrate now on ‘Shakespeare Connections’. As I mentioned, many of these computer-generated windows on the play confirm things that we already know. In The Winter’s Tale picture, it is unsurprising that Leontes, the jealous and suspicious king of Sicilia who banishes his baby daughter and comes close to killing his wife, is the character who interacts with the largest number of people.

The Winter's Tale

Similarly, it is no surprise that Caius Martius, aka. Coriolanus, is at the heart of Coriolanus.


However, some plays surprise us with their diagrams. It is Falstaff, and not Prince Hal, who is at the centre of the web of King Henry IV part I, and Portia, not the merchant Antonio or Shylock the Jew, who sits at what might also be called the emotional centre of The Merchant of Venice.

Henry IV part I

The Merchant of Venice

One final point. These images show us neither the character who speaks most, nor the most important character in the story. The former is a job for a different program, and the latter one for a human. The ‘Shakespeare Connections’ simply show the character who speaks with whom, and who, out of all these characters, has the largest number of interlocutors. This focus makes the pictures well-suited to showing us the complexity of Shakespeare’s history plays, plays often criticised for their complex plots and excessive numbers of events.

I would like to conclude therefore with a triptych, composed of those images that represent the Henry VI trilogy. Here, the lines in red show us what a tangled web Shakespeare weaves, and how the trilogy descends from the high martial nobility of Talbot, to the bitter struggle led by York and his sons for control of the English throne, until we reach the last convulsions of the war, where Warwick (and the Lancastrian army) is betrayed and killed at the battle of Barnet.

Book Review: Eric Rasmussen, The Shakespeare Thefts

- November 18, 2011 in Essay, Musings, Review

The Shakespeare Thefts begins and ends in the same place, with a preface briefly sketching the genesis of the first edition of Shakespeare’s collected works, and an appendix adding a little detail on the topic. Between these two descriptions, Eric Rasmussen has gathered a great number of anecdotes and stories all related to the transmission of what the blurb rightly calls “one of the most sought-after books in the world”, known to all as the ‘First Folio’. Many of these anecdotes are the fruit of the research that he and his team have carried out in the compilation of The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Catalogue, to be published later this month, whilst many more are drawn from existing studies either of Elizabethan England or of the more famous owners of a First Folio. The entire volume, from preface to appendix, consists of a little less than two hundred pages.

As its length would indicate, this is not intended as a scholarly study of the cultural significance of First-Folio ownership; rather, it is, as Rasmussen himself notes in his acknowledgements, a “trade book”. In this respect, there is a great deal here for the Shakespeare enthusiast if not for the Shakespeare expert, and all presented in small, bite-size chunks. Sometimes even an enthusiast might wish for a little more detail, however. My favourite chapter, that detailing Charles I’s First Folio and his annotations of the work, is remarkable for using the historical object as a window into Charles’ imprisonment and mental state, but such an approach is all too brief and lasts only for a mere two pages in a largish font. The next chapter takes us to the bar in which Quentin Tarantino filmed Kill Bill, and an excited description of how one researcher found a hair trapped in the ink of a First Folio. It is of itself a fascinating idea, but, again, lasts for only a few pages before a chapter on a botched attempt to steal a copy of this book takes its place. Despite this endless variety, Rasmussen is able to provide us with little facts at every turn, and it is a testament to his knowledge of the subject, that he is able to wear it all so lightly indeed.

I must confess that as I continued with this book, I had the guilty desire that Rasmussen would depart from what actually happened to the First Folios and begin a fictitious account. Although much of what The Shakespeare Thefts reveals confirms the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction, one can’t help but think that fiction is still often much neater and more readable than truth. So many different things have happened to so many different copies of the First Folio that it would have been impossible to impose a single narrative on them all, and the problems of this constantly moving text are to a certain extent the problems of its topic. The title of the work makes for a particularly good example: it tries to impose some order with the word “Thefts”, but many of the anecdotes told within have little to do with larceny at all. The title, perhaps revealingly, also makes me think of J.L. Carrell’s successful The Shakespeare Secret (2008), a book which does use fiction to create a riveting, coherent narrative out of the multitudinous facts of manuscript transmission.

I enjoyed this book, and after having eagerly turned all its pages, finished it in possession of several new tidbits of information that I did not possess before, such as the fact that a clause in a Japanese will has hidden a Folio from the world for thirteen years, and that the bullet lodged in one Folio stopped at Titus Andronicus. For this, I would recommend the book as a stocking-filler for a Shakespeare buff, although, even then, be prepared to find the aforesaid buff perhaps wanting a little more when he has consumed this book.

One final comment, as one of those in charge of a website devoted to making information about Shakespeare as widely accessible, as open, as possible. At several points, Rasmussen correctly emphasises the importance of the detailed descriptions that he and his team have made of each Folio, since these descriptions make those volumes “The World’s Worst Stolen Treasures”, capable of being recognised by anyone with the information he has codified. Unfortunately, the fruits of Rasmussen’s research are only available in the weighty tome that is The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Catalogue, and would, I believe, be of greater service to the scholarly community as an online database. I do not know if his publishers have such plans, but given the evident wealth of information available, it really does seem a logical step.

Further, if this database one day became open access, then everyone, their appetite whetted by Rasmussen’s little book, would be able to marvel at the strange and true accounts all jostling for space in The Shakespeare Thefts.

Success in Inventare il Futuro Competition

- November 8, 2011 in Community, Essay, News, Publicity, Technical, Texts

By James Harriman-Smith and Primavera De Filippi

On the 11th July, the Open Literature (now Open Humanities) mailing list got an email about a competition being run by the University of Bologna called ‘Inventare il Futuro’ or ‘Inventing the Future’. On the 28th October, Hvaing submitted an application on behalf of the OKF, we got an email saying that our idea had won us €3 500 of funding. Here’s how.

The Idea: Open Reading

The competition was looking for “innovative ideas involving new technologies which could contribute to improving the quality of civil and social life, helping to overcome problems linked to people’s lives.” Our proposal, entered into the ‘Cultural and Artistic Heritage’ category, proposed joining the OKF’s Public Domain Calculators and Annotator together, creating a site that allowed users more interaction with public domain texts, and those texts a greater status online. To quote from our finished application:

Combined, the annotator and the public domain calculators will power a website on which users will be able to find any public domain literary text in their jurisdiction, and either download it in a variety of formats or read it in the environment of the website. If they chose the latter option, readers will have the opportunity of searching, annotating and anthologising each text, creating their own personal response to their cultural literary heritage, which they can then share with others, both through the website and as an exportable text document.

As you can see, with thirty thousand Euros for the overall winner, we decided to think very big. The full text, including a roadmap is available online. Many thanks to Jason Kitkat and Thomas Kandler who gave up their time to proofread and suggest improvements.

The Winnings: Funding Improvements to OKF Services

The first step towards Open Reading was always to improve the two services it proposed marrying: the Annotator and the Public Domain Calculators. With this in mind we intend to use our winnings to help achieve the following goals, although more ideas are always welcome:

  • Offer bounties for flow charts regarding the public domain in as yet unexamined jurisdictions.
  • Contribute, perhaps, to the bounties already available for implementing flowcharts into code.
  • Offer mini-rewards for the identification and assessment of new metadata databases.
  • Modify the annotator store back-end to allow collections.
  • Make the importation and exportation of annotations easier.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if any of this is of interest. An Open Humanities Skype meeting will be held on 20th November 2011 at 3pm GMT.

Word of the Day: Philomel

- October 15, 2011 in Essay, Word of the Day

This is an article on the daughter of Pandion I and Zeuxippe, raped by her sister Procne’s husband, Tereus, in the Thracian woods and transformed, along with Procne, into a bird. It is not an article about a little-known string instrument. The former we now write ‘Philomela’, the latter ‘Philomel’, but Shakespeare, bound by poetic rhythm, frequently adopts ‘Philomel’ as a name for the woman who was not only raped, but also had her tongue cut out by her brother-in-law, and whose story has been told or referenced by Ovid, Chaucer, Sir Walter Raleigh, Philip Sidney and many more, as well as ten times by Shakespeare.

The name Philomela, although Ovid thought that it came from the Greek for ‘lover of song’, actually seems to mean lover of fruit, lover of apples (one thinks of Paris’s choice) and lover of sheep. These bucolic references recur in Shakespeare’s sweetest evocation of the Philomel story, the songs chanted by Titania’s fairy attendants in the woods of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Philomel, with melody,
Sing in our sweet lullaby:
Lulla, lulla, lullaby; lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm, nor spell, nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So good-night, with lullaby.

Of course, no mention of Philomel could ever be completely without menace, and, despite the fairies’ wishes, Oberon soon appears to charm his lady into humiliating infatuation with an ass. Chaucer, in Troilus and Criseyde has a roughly similar scene, when Criseyde, not long before she and Troilus consummate their love in the night, whiles away nightfall listening to the nightingale, the bird into which tradition holds Philomela was transformed, as it sings “ayein the mone shene, / […] a lay / Of love, that made hir fresh and gay”. Of course, Criseyde’s misfortunate is both further off and much more grave than the recumbant Titania’s, yet still both scenes portray the two halves of the Philomela story: the evil dealt to a woman at the hands of a man, and the beauty of the bird’s song that charms and testifies to the tragedy.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, himself hellenophile and here rephrasing a common Ancient Greek sentiment, wrote that “Most wretched men / Are cradled into poetry by wrong, / They learn in suffering what they teach in song.” The words come from his Julian and Maddalo, a poem heavy with the poet’s own introspection, yet they also play out the shape of the Philomela story: great suffering and beautiful song. Shakespeare’s sonnet 102 draws a parallel between the sonneteer and the songbird (here called ‘Philomel’), since “like her, I sometime hold my tongue: / Because I would not dull you with my song.” Being Shakespeare, this is something of a new twist: the silence of the nightingale is the interest of the amorous sonneteer; the lack of music both the promise of future, better, sounds, and the repudiation of a link between song and suffering. This contrasts with Raleigh’s poem (written in response to one by Christopher Marlowe), where the silence of the nightingale is, if anything, more terrifying than her song, being a sign of “cares to come”.

Yet Shakespeare does not shy away from this menace either: his Lucrece, herself a victim of rape, sings “her nightly sorrow” like the nightingale in The Rape of Lucrece, and then, not soon after, curses the joyful morning chorus and instead invites Philomel’s avian to warble an accompaniment to her grief. Elsewhere, Iachimo, the villain of Cymbeline, notes with glee that Imogen, the woman whose love for Posthumus he will misrepresent, read before sleeping “The tale of Tereus” and “that the leaf’s turn’d down / Where Philomel gave up”. Whether evil man or female victim, the Greek myth serves to sharpen the emotion of the scene. The danger, of course, is that things may seem too pat, the identification between Greek heroine and Shakespearean character too neat, and the art thus fatally blunting the articulation of sorrow felt or sorrows still to fall.

This point brings us to Titus Andonicus, where an early-career Shakespeare is, even more than elsewhere, interested in the limits and techniques of his writing. Specifically, the playwright seems to be measuring himself against the Latin poet Ovid, whom he would have studied at length in school and whose version of the Philomela story he would consequently know. It is to this chapter of Ovid’s Metamorphoses that a tongueless Lavinia turns to tell her family about what the young Goths have done to her; yet, as her father Titus himself remarks, Lavinia is in a state “worst than Philomel”. Titus’ brother Marcus is even clearer, bursting into an uncomfortably long speech before the mangled woman to say that her agressor “hath cut those pretty fingers off / That could have better sew’d than Philomel”, Ovid’s heroine communicating her plight in a tapestry sent to her sister Procne.

If we add all this emphasis on Lavinia suffering more than Philomela to poets’ connections between suffering and song embodied in the nightingale trope, a few observations can be made. What pushes Shakespeare’s Lavinia beyond the Ovidian pale is a particularly obvious wound: Philomela’s rape and the cutting of her tongue are not immediately visible injuries, whereas the loss of Lavinia’s hands is. In this respect Shakespeare surpasses Ovid in a dimension offered to him as a playwright and not to Ovid or other writers of poems: the actor’s physical body on the stage. Even the rudimentary stagecraft of an Elizabethan stage could bind and bloody hands, and Lavinia’s appearance on a stage without these appendages makes for a theatrical spectacle as much as a poetical one. In a very specific, dark sense of the term, Lavinia is Shakespeare’s transformation of Philomela, her metamorphosis marked right before the spectator’s eyes.

David Pearce, Freedom of Narrative

- October 10, 2011 in Essay

David Pearce is an actor and producer in The Propaganda Company theatre group, an ensemble of artists working and experimenting with performance and modern technology to express current issues and contemporary society. His article draws on this experience to discuss a connection between the freedom of discourse on the internet and the freedoms of contemporary theatre’s relation to tradition; it is published here under a Creative Commons 3.0 SA BY licence.

The internet and its multitudinous voices regularly remind me of that legendary property, that ethereal, mythic status held by Shakespeare and his works. In the online community, stories are borrowed from every orifice, from every nook and cranny on the information superhighway. Borrowed, acquired, improved, weakened and every other operation under the sun. There is now, at our fingertips, a vast, unprecedented repository of information, of both fact and fiction, that we draw upon for inspiration, and, more specifically, make metatheatrical comment on in contemporary performance (see the work of Rimini Protokoll for an example). The universal archive of the internet is enriched with such mammoth investment from all the peoples of the world that what I call freedom of narrative could not help but be born out of it. This freedom is rooted in the online ability to interpret, to adapt, and to debate every story, every picture and every single syllable of a sound bite; it is the internet’s most wondrous feature. No longer are we so tightly bound to a corporate or state perspective on events, should they have chosen to report them at all. Naturally bias and prejudice are is still rife, but there are, however, simply so many reputable bloggers, so many mobile phone recordings of live events and so many grassroots reporters that stories can no longer be easily quashed.

This free narrative that we discover on the internet pervades the best of contemporary performance on offer today, as evidenced by the latest rise of verbatim theatre, its renaissance due to the ease with which broad sample data can now be obtained. My troupe,The Propaganda Company decided that we should examine this multiple perspective phenomenon for our next show, by utilising one of the most popular texts in the theatrical canon. Enter Lear.

A scholarly chap once said of our King Lear script that we had “barbarized” the text. I can understand his view: our text comprises only a third of the original’s lines, is encompassed in a one act structure of thirteen scenes and has no Edgar, no Cordelia and even fewer attendants. Our play is, of course, far from being the unique recipient of such accusations, and many other contemporary reworkings of the Bard’s portfolio suffer opprobrium for choosing to highlight a small moment or issue and then magnify it through the phenomenon of multiple perspectives. To be honest, I would have to say that I’ve witnessed some dreadful productions that aim to do just that, providing ample evidence for those thinking it better to leave well enough alone when dealing with a Shakespeare work.

Nevertheless, a blanket disapproval of modernisation, contemporising or whatever you’d like to call it simply misses both the importance of contemporary, internet-inspired, polyphonous retellings and, I’d argue also, the joyful breadth of the Bard’s original works. The latter, after all, themselves commented with varied levels of success and audacity on the issues that permeated Shakespeare’s own society and continued, with the aid of adaptation, to comment on other cultures from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century. This was one of the reasons for us selecting King Lear: the play was infamously altered in 1681 by Nahum Tate to create a happier, pacified ending; Tate’s version then ran for over 200 years and appeared in Johnson’s Shakespeare folio. This Restoration adaptation’s durability suggests that successful and bold adaptations of narrative can and have been found; in the technology-heavy culture of the twentieth-first century, it seems to me that there is now more adaptation activity than ever before, under the influence of what I previously identified as the freedom of narrative.

It is my profound belief that modern audiences crave shorter, more focused and hard-hitting performances that smack of originality. One has only to tour the works of Bond, Pinter and Kane for many a vivid example. Originality, though, and especially with regard to Shakespeare, has to mean an original use of free narrative, an original commentary or retelling of something. Much to my surprise, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent and glorious Merchant of Venice (or should I say Merchant of Vegas?) was my most recent experience of the spirit of free narrative.

Turning further back in time, I watched, last October, the Polish company Song of the Goat do a version of Macbeth. Condensed into 75 minutes of explosive physical action and ritualistic stick-bashing, the show was a master class in polyphonic performance with an astounding intensity. Such bold reinterpretation, characteristic of free narrative, goes back, of course, to the 1960s, when the internet was but a glint in a military milkman’s eye. Today, however, in adaptations such as this polish Macbeth, we witness the huge emphasis placed on transformative perspectives, what contemporary theory calls the “neo-new take”. This approach applies (with varying degrees of credibility and success) new, personal and often subversive approaches that, rather than drag a play into our century, coax it forward, organically drawing out what matters to us: it is partly the product of ensemble creation processes, but I also attribute it strongly to what we see our far-flung fellows doing in online communities, commenting, arguing, tweeting.

Take our Lear as an example, presenting power as a muddy business where the daughters are reasonable and brutal, where Lear is a sage but callous hedonist and the Fool is his compassionate spin doctor. The greatest homage we pay to the online spirit of powerful independent thought is in Poor Tom who features frequently as a physically disturbed servant, subjected to wrath and love, but ultimately dictating the fate of his oppressors. Timely stuff we hope. It discourages some audience members from ever straying from traditional Shakespeare again but I don’t doubt that others warm to it, thus ensuring a future audience for the Bard’s works on the contemporary edge of things.

One final comment: Shylock would no doubt have vomited at the thought of thousands of global performances – traditional or much less so – of Shakespeare annually, all free from copyright and royalties. In a way, it’s the ultimate practice and example of shedding the shackles of fiscal oppression … at least creatively. At a time when many are drawing lines in the silicon of the internet in an attempt to protect and commercialise every byte of data, note of music, second of film and pixel of image available, the Bard, by virtue of his age, represents a delightful pocket of resistance, an alternative to this all-enclosing juggernaut of a system. Shakespeare is freely accessible online, not least on Open Shakespeare, and this hopefully leads to a proliferation of work amongst the modern groundlings that the internet makes of all of us, ensuring that the bard remains universally affective, and the source of further free narrative.

Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim, Good Night, Tweet Prince

- October 3, 2011 in Essay

The authors of this article run the website Everyday Shakespeare (@EverydayShakes on twitter), which has been brightening many a Shakespearean’s life since October 2009. They have both kindly agreed to publish their work here under a Creative Commons 3.0 SA BY licence. As they introduce themselves and their work in the body of the article, I’ll hand over to them without further ado.

The life of a Shakespeare professor can be a lonely one: hours spent holed up in a library researching obscure theories about Hamlet’s sweat, or in a sunless office writing up lecture notes. That’s why we decided to start writing our blog, Everyday Shakespeare. We wanted to get some fresh air and have a little more fun with our favorite Renaissance man.

Before we got started, we had some decisions to make: Would we ‘out’ ourselves by using our own names (something most academic bloggers avoid for fear of looking un-professorial)? Would we talk about our kids? How often would we post? We’re both working moms, so we knew we were taking on a big challenge. We decided to give each day of the week its own gimmick so that we wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. We were hoping that what was stifling in our everyday lives (Monday=soccer practice; Tuesday=PTA), might be freeing when it came to our everyday blogging lives (Tuesday=Magic Shake-Ball; Friday=Homebaked Shakespeare). With our schedule in place, and a blog workshop under our belts, we were ready to go.

We let down our hair, took a deep breath, and climbed out of the Ivory Tower. What we found was an undiscovered country populated with actors, teachers, obsessed Bardolators, and people on the fringe of the Shakespearean fringe. We found out that people wanted to talk about performances they’d seen, quotes they loved, characters they related to, what Shakespeare had to say about chickens — you name it. They joined the debate when we had Margaret of Anjou weigh in on the Tiger Mom controversy and Richard III review “Game of Thrones”. It was exhilarating and unpredictable. We couldn’t believe we’d been missing out on all this fun. We were hooked.

For us, blogging also confirmed what we’d both felt over the years as we poured over his characters and stories: Shakespeare was a guy who gets us, who understands our sleep-deprived, stressed out, carpooling existences even though we’re living in suburban Boston and he’s, well, dead. Shakespeare’s humor and wisdom about some of the most painful issues in our lives had always been a reassurance and a comfort — and a lot cheaper than therapy. Now we had an international support group! We got fabulous feedback when we talked about how Shakespeare nailed depictions of teenage bullies, marital sex, and parental guilt. People cyber-laughed at our McSweeney’s pieces, “Letters to Santa from Shakespeare’s Characters” and “willslist”, our craigslist parody where we imagined Lady Macbeth trying to hawk a bloody mattress and Hamlet looking to sell his shower caddy and Ikea dresser before jumping off the Wittenberg University bell-tower.

We like to think that Shakespeare would have approved of what we’re doing. After all, for someone like him who was determined to win over wealthy folks and groundlings alike, the far-reaching democracy of the blogosphere would have been a dream come true. Not to mention the international possibilities. Shakespeare fantasized about foreign lands, and the people he might have met there; with the internet, he could have Friended all of them.

We don’t know what Shakespeare would have tweeted, but we do know he’d have had millions of followers.

He had us at “Good morrow”.

Erin Weinberg, Why do I blog about Shakespeare? It’s a Choice

- September 26, 2011 in Essay

This contribution from Erin Weinberg is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 SA BY licence and is another example of the same lively writing on Shakespeare and literature that can be found on her sites Why I love Shakespeare and A Bibliophile’s H(e)aven; Erin has also kindly proofread several of the other articles in this series.

If I could choose any keyboard key to represent myself, it would be the exclamation mark. If I could choose anything to blog about, it’s Shakespeare.

Last year, I found myself at an impasse: MA finished, PhD applications in process, an office job unrelated to my field but a pressing need to stay abreast of all matters Shakespeare for the sake of my personal and professional peace of mind. So I found myself making a choice: do I wile away the year playing time-wasting computer games, or do I push forward? Realizing for certain that Shakespeare was a topic that I was going to spend the rest of my life pursuing, I decided to jump into the fast-moving stream that is the Shakespearean discourse taking place over the internet.

I find it mind-boggling that after two short years, I have become an ‘established blogger.’ The process began when I started Why I love Shakespeare, and then decided that I did not want to restrict my musings on bibliophilia (the love of books) to Shakespeare, and started A Bibliophile’s H(e)aven. Seeking Shakespeare-loving collaborators, I have now joined the ranks of The Shakespeare Standard and Open Shakespeare, for whom I write and assist editorially.

So why the blogging addiction? Because I am a big fan of choice.

My online lifestyle began with the choice: what, in particular, will I write about? When I started with Why I Love Shakespeare, I wanted to reach out to any errant Google-er who, in the years or decades after studying Shakespeare in high school, could not understand what the ‘big deal’ was. To me, the wisdom I found between the pages of Shakespeare’s plays was a huge deal, and I wanted to share this enthusiasm with my readers by giving them pint-sized doses of what I think makes his writing so thought-provoking and relevant today.

The choice to blog about Shakespeare was a great way to work on my writing skills and keep up with the newest trends in Shakespeare criticism, but it also allowed me certain luxuries. For once, the only deadlines and business hours I operated under were my own. When I blog, I am my own boss, accountable to my readers and myself. That’s not to say I do not feel guilty when a month goes by (as it inevitably does) without a post, but it is equally important to realize that it is far too easy to type letters onto a keyboard and press ‘Post’. Within an instant, my writing is readily available for billions of people over the Internet to see – so I better only publish material that I am proud of.

While enjoying the choice to blog when I want, the blogosphere also allows me the choice to blog any way I want. For me, this means that I do not have to construct a linear narrative: if I want to talk about sonnets today and a Shakespeare film tomorrow, I can do so. With the option of labeling my posts, I have the freedom of writing about whatever inspires me at that moment. This way, my readers get a taste of the variety of ways that Shakespeare touches our lives, and if they really want, they can focus on one aspect of my blog: Reviews, Rants, Current Events, or my favorite, Arresting Images, in which I close-read small portions of Shakespeare’s texts.

What expands my readers’ choices exponentially is technology’s gift to humankind: hypertext. Hypertext allows me to accommodate a variety of different readers. Some of my readers are fellow Shakespeare scholars, and do not need further explanation when I name-drop or casually use theatre jargon. Nonetheless, many others welcome a degree of clarification, and hypertext allows these readers the choice of clicking on these concepts. With each hyperlinked word, my readers have the option of broadening their understanding of the field without being burdened by lengthy digressions or the shame of feeling patronized by a lowest-common-denominator explanation. Hypertext offers my readers a world of information at their fingertips, yet allows me to speak with the brevity that, Polonius reminds us, is the soul of wit.
Even before the age of Apps and Twitter, the beauty of the Internet has always been the democracy it engenders in allowing anyone connected to hop on their own private soapbox and speak their mind. Ultimately, your decision to read my blog, or how to read my blog, is your choice, but the beauty of writing a blog is that it is always my choice to continue doing so. No grades, no deadlines, no acceptance or rejection letters, although possibly the occasional heckler. I choose to continue producing the best writing I possibly can, and the Internet itself has no choice but to listen to me. For that, I am most grateful.

Heather Nolen, “The wise man reads both books and life itself”

- September 19, 2011 in Essay

This post has been written by Heather Nolen, a high school English teacher with a special interest in British history and literature under a Creative Commons 3.0 SA BY licence. Her blog, covering Austen, Shakespeare and other authors, may be found at and takes as its point of departure the idea that humanities is in danger of losing its way as a field.

From an early age, I’ve always loved books. In my pre-adolescent years, I loved devouring series novels and waiting for the next one to come out so I could get the next piece of the story. Now, as an adult, I love the sight of them on my shelf, I love the smell of the old book glue in the antique books I collect; I love reading them and not only learning things about myself, but so many things about the world around me.

Lately, though, as anyone would notice, the world around me is changing; no longer are books things one must lug about, or wet one’s fingers to turn the pages. Books are available everywhere in our new virtual world, via the world wide web or various e-readers. With the increased availability of books, that means there is an increased availability of knowledge; never before has a society been able to be so autodidactic. Not only can one read all forms of literature online, but also summaries, analyses, and criticism of that literature. This increased access to knowledge has created a proverbial vortex in which our lives have become mixed with the literature we love to read.

One of my literary loves is Jane Austen. I love her wit, use of irony, intrusion into her characters’ thoughts, and just the absolute faithfulness with which she presented the society in which she lived. Now, I don’t have just her novels lining my shelves; I have a hyper-concordance wherein, should I be absent from my shelf or just simply not want to flip through the book, I can search for one name or word in any one of her novels. Not only that, but there is also the Republic of Pemberley, a site that provides exhaustive information about Jane, her life and times, and her works – all at the stroke of a key. What ever did we do before the advent of this cornucopia of potential knowledge?

And then there’s Shakespeare. Oh, Will. I’ve loved him ever since I discovered in high school that I could just understand his writing without help. Unlike so many of my classmates, I got it. That doesn’t mean, though, that I’ve ever settled for my own perspective on his works. After my high school introduction, I took one class at university that lumped him in with Milton and Chaucer, another specifically focused on his tragedies. Then, after earning my degree, I went on to take a continuing education course at a different university that focused on other plays. My point is that varied perspectives enhance our understanding of all literary works. Again, we cue the world wide web with all its latent intellectual bounty. Sites like Open Shakespeare not only present his works in their entirety, but also offer critical introductions, and a Will-ophile like myself can find virtually anything necessary to learn more about Shakespeare – or to use when presenting his works to my ever virtually-evolving students.

So, what’s the point? Well, first, there is no reason not to take advantage of the virtual yet very real wealth of information at our fingertips. Second, if one is, as Lin Yutang said, to be wise and “read both books and life itself,” then we – bibliophiles and literary types, as a microcosm of a greater society – must be prepared for a paradigm shift. No longer are we wetting fingers or staining fingers with ink in order to push through to that paper or submission deadline; we are callousing fingertips and crouching over a screen that leads us all, students and teachers, to a “brave new world, / That has such people in’t!”