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‘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.

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.

Text Camp 2011

- August 9, 2011 in Community, News, Texts

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s first ever Text Camp will be taking place this Saturday 13th August, thanks to JISC offering us the use of their meeting rooms in London.


  • Where? Brettenham House, 9 Savoy Street, WC2E 7EG, London. – Meet outside ‘The Savoy Tup’ Pub, Savoy Street, at 10am to be guided to the venue.
  • When? Saturday 13th August, 10am – 6pm
  • What?A gathering for all those interested in the relation between technology and literature, with a specal focus on the creation of open knowledge.
  • More details:
  • Order (free) tickets:
  • Twitter: #tcamp11

Hope you can make it!

Announcing Annotation Sprint

- February 1, 2011 in News, Publicity, Texts

## Change Criticism Forever – Participate in the Open Shakespeare Annotation Sprint

The votes are in! We are annotating ***Hamlet***

[Open Shakespeare]:

**This weekend we’re holding the first [Open Shakespeare][] Annotation Sprint — participate and help change criticism forever!** We’ll be getting together online and in-person to collaborate on critically annotating a complete Shakespeare play with all our work being [open][].

All of Shakespeare’s texts are, of course, in the public domain, and therefore already [open][]. However, most editions of Shakespeare people actually use (and purchase) are ‘critical’ editions, that is texts together with notes and annotations that explain or analyze the text, and, for these critical editions **no [open version][open] yet exists**. This weekend we’re aiming to change that!

Using the [annotator tool][annotator] we now have a way to work collaboratively online to add and develop these ‘critical’ additions and the aim of the sprint is to **fully annotate one complete play**. Anyone can get involved, from lay-Shakespeare-lover to English professor, all you’ll need is a web-browser and an interest in Bard, and even if you can’t make it, you can [vote right now on which play we should work on][vote]!


* **When: Saturday Feb 5th 2011, 11am-6pm GMT**
* May extend either side depending on location of participants
* May do a second day on Sunday (depending on coffee and enthusiasm)!
* **Where: online and in-person**
* E.g. in-person meetup at University of Cambridge English Faculty
* **Planning etherpad: **
* Please add your name here if you plan to participate so we can coordinate
* [Facebook event](
* Event page:
* Requirements: a standards-compliant web browser (Firefox or Chrome recommended — not IE)
* [Vote for text to annotate (doodle)][vote]


Using ***specially-designed annotation software*** we intend to print an edition of Shakespeare unlike any other, incorporating glosses, textual notes and other information written by anyone able to connect to the website.

Work begins with a ***full-day annotation sprint on Saturday 5th February***, which will take online as well as at in-person meetups. Anyone can organize a meetup and we’re organizing one at University of Cambridge English Faculty (if you’d like to hold your own please just add it to the etherpad linked above).

Online Editions of Shakespeare

- 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

- 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.

Word of the Day: Football

- June 11, 2010 in Texts, Word of the Day

Lacking inspiration for a Word of the Day article on the day that it all kicks off in South Africa, I freely admit that I’m taking the obvious subject. Expect other articles in due course on ‘Tennis’, and any other seasonal events that come to mind. The word ‘football’ occurs only twice in all Shakespeare’s oeuvre, once in [*The Comedy of Errors*]( and once in [*King Lear*]( In the latter, the term is Kent’s insult of choice when he attacks Goneril’s servant, Osric, calling him

> you base football player

Before sending the man sprawling. The insult tells us a few things about what the Elizabethans understood as ‘football’, which was for them a far less decorous game that the one whose World Cup begins today.

Medieval Mob Football, courtesy of Wikipedia

So-called Medieval 'Mob Football', courtesy of Wikipedia

Kent’s insult may even pick up on puritan efforts to ban football, a campaign strengthened by the violence and damages of the sport. Around the same time as *King Lear’s* first performance, the authorities in Manchester were complaining that

> With the ffotebale…[there] hath beene greate disorder in our towne of Manchester we are told, and glasse windowes broken yearlye and spoyled by a companie of lewd and disordered persons …

However, football was saved from too much persecution by the pious James I, who wrote, in his *Book of Sports* that Christians should play football every Sunday afternoon after worship. But was it really a game involving feet only? After all, it would be difficult to cause all that damage in Manchester, even with the skills (and temperament) of a Zidane. The other use of the word in Shakespeare’s works, does, however, suggest that the sport was beginning to focus on the relationship between ball and foot by Shakespeare’s time:

> DROMIO OF EPHESUS Am I so round with you, as you with me,
> That like a football you do spurn me thus?
> You spurn me hence, and he will spurn me hither:
> If I last in this service, you must case me in leather…

“Spurn” here means ‘to kick away‘ (this original, now obsolete, sense dates back to 1000AD, and survives in our modern ‘spur’), thus hinting at the increasing importance of the feet. Other details here are also revealing: that the ball was spherical, and thus different from the rugby ball; and that the casement was made of leather, a material still used in many footballs, if not that of the current World Cup, which is made out of ethylene-vinyl acetate and thermoplastic polyurethanes – with a latex bladder.

Footballs are not the only spherical things in *The Comedy of Errors*: Antipholus of Syracuse describes his search for his long-lost family as the search of one water drop for another in an ocean, and there is also the memorable description of the nymphomaniac maid in search of Dromio’s heart:

> DROMIO OF SYRACUSE No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip: she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her.
> ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE In what part of her body stands Ireland?
> DROMIO OF SYRACUSE Marry, in her buttocks: I found it out by the bogs.
> …
> ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?
> DROMIO OF SYRACUSE Oh, sir, I did not look so low.

Although football is not mentioned here, perhaps we have in *The Comedy of Errors* – with its many peregrinations, its cosmopolitan references to countries all over the world, its obsession with money, its hints that footballs were to be kicked and made of leather – the beginnings of the modern game, and, in Dromio’s kitchen wench, the earliest recorded WAG.

Open Shakespeare at OKCON

- 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…

Shakespeare Quarterly part II

- 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?


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.