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Shakespeare Resources on the Internet, by Gabriel Egan 17 November 1997


Browsing the World Wide Web may be likened to browsing a library which has no librarian, no catalogue, and in which any borrower may add an item (a `site') to the collection without informing anybody else. The only indices are produced by robots who read everything and make a concordance to every word in every deposit. The lack of structure is unimportant because almost everything deposited has no value to anyone. But even if only one in a thousand items is of value, the web is so vast that tiny fractions of it are huge in absolute terms. This review aims to highlight material on the Internet which may be of value to Shakespeare scholars in their research. Use of the Internet for teaching purposes is growing but the subject is too large to be treated here.

Many of the deposits left in the Internet's vast unpeopled `library' are merely lists of items which the depositor thought might be of interest to someone else. That is to say, `metasites' are created which contain little content but many links to other sites. By far the best of the metasites is Terry Gray's "Mr William Shakespeare and the Internet". Gray's content includes transcriptions of Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare 1 and the introduction to Rowe's 1709 edition of Shakespeare's plays2.

Library OPACs

Since the 1970s it has been possible to search the holdings of many research libraries via Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACs) made available over the Internet using the pre-web service Telnet. The British Library was late to make its catalogue available over the Internet, and the delay has made it possible to use a web interface which is considerably easier to navigate than a Telnet interface. A metasite for UK university and public organizations library OPACs exists within the National Information Services and Systems website.


There are no technological barriers to the replacement of the print medium with electronic distribution, but currently just two refereed scholarly journal exist solely in electronic form. Early Modern Literary Studies (EMLS) frequently carries Shakespeare-related articles and reviews. To the information supplier electronic distribution is effectively free since Internet traffic is carried free to higher education institutions around the world by long-standing international agreements. Distribution costs are therefore eliminated but the absence of subscriptions from individuals and libraries affects the other side of the equation and it remains to be seen whether this form of publication is economically viable. The editorial and advisory boards of EMLS are composed of eminent scholars whose names will be familiar to Shakespearians; they include Stephen Orgel, Milla Riggio, Hardy Cook, Ian Lancashire, and Luc Borot.

As usual, the quality of the editorial team of EMLS indicates the quality of the content of the journal. Although American scholars predominate on the editorial team, and the journal's home institution is University of Alberta in Canada, the articles carried since the first issue was published in April 1995 show an international range of scholars and wide range of topics. Studies of empirical matters, such as textual bibliography, share space with interpretative essays. In the December 1995 issue Raymond G. Siemens's article "Evolution and Growth in On-line Resources for Early Modern Literary Studies"3 contained hypertext links to works of interest. That most of these still work nearly two years later, is a testament either to the stability of the new resources or to the assiduity of someone at EMLS in updating the links.

The second electronic journal is Renaissance Forum which "specializes in early-modern English literary and historical scholarship and in the critical methodologies of these fields". The general editors of Renaissance Forum are Robin Headlam Wells and Glenn Burgess of the English and History departments respectively of the University of Hull UK, and the advisory board includes Jonathan Bate, Catherine Belsey, Francois Laroque and Ann Thompson. Like many Shakespeare- related resources, Renaissance Forum's masthead uses a graphic derived from Visscher's 1616 view of London which shows an octagonal Globe; that this view has for 50 years been known to have no authority whatsoever does not diminish its apparent power to denote `Shakespeare's Time' to a wide audience of specialists and non-specialists. The three issues of Renaissance Forum to date have been of high quality. In the first issue Janet Clare extended arguments she has made elsewhere4 to argue that censorship of early modern writing affected women differently, and more severely, than men5. In the same volume Martin Coyle wrote a critique of the attacks made by Richard Levin and Tom McAlindon on the weaknesses and dogmatism of New Historicist and Cultural Materialist scholarship6. Richard Levin responded in the succeeding issue of Renaissance Forum with an article which was cross-referenced by hypertext links to the relevant paragraphs in Coyle's piece7. Since Coyle could not have predicted this, the earlier article contains no links back to Levin and so the browser's BACK button must be used. This hypertextualization is startling in the rapidity with which one can switch the `voice' one is listening to. Levin's references are limited by the specificity of linkages--which here only operate down to the paragraph level--and so rather than quoting Coyle, Levin's links offer the reader a chance to hear again the full argument in context. In this respect Renaissance Forum offers a reading experience unavailable in print media, but it is a polyphony which could easily descend into cacophony.

Etexts and Large Corpora

Distribution costs being effectively zero makes the Internet like certain parts of the existing print medium infrastructure. Material which is free of copyright can already be distributed by print media at very low cost. Photolithography removes the need to typeset the material (an existing edition can be copied) and the large-scale destruction of the world's trees has made paper extraordinarily cheap. Both the print and electronic media are awash with huge textual corpora which are effectively free to the user: editions of Shakespeare made in the nineteenth century can be had for virtually nothing in either form.

When searching the Internet for Shakespeare-related material, old etexts (for example the Moby Shakespeare) are found everywhere and the only added-value offered by many sites is to search the text for particular words. It is more convenient to download the texts to one's own computer and search them using tools already possessed, such as word-processing software.

It costs money to edit Shakespeare texts afresh, and anyone undertaking this as a scholarly endeavour can expect financial return from the readers via a publisher. Surprisingly, however, there are scholarly projects to edit Shakespeare texts and give away the results via the Internet. The most important of these is the Internet Shakespeare Editions at University of Victoria in Canada. The owner of this site, Michael Best, intends for it to become a one-stop source for a variety of Shakespeare etexts. Currently the site contains transcripts of several early printed texts derived from early quartos and the 1623 Folio: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, The Comedy of Errors, Julius Caesar, Measure for Measure, and The Winter's Tale.

As with the Shakespearean Originals printed series of early text reprints8, the Internet Shakespeare Editions make no attempt to record press variants or to represent broken types and other variations at the minutest level for which a photographic facsimile would be needed, but signatures and catchwords are recorded. In this respect these public-domain texts surpass and render redundant the numbers in Shakespearean Originals series whose only additional, dubious, value lies in their polemical introductions. The Internet Shakespeare Editions project is governed by an editorial board of eminent scholars including David Bevington, Anne Lancashire, Michael Mullin, Michael Warren and Helen Ostovich and is certainly worth watching. In addition to the early printed text transcripts, the Internet Shakespeare Editions project intends to create and distribute modern critical editions. It remains to be seen whether it is commercially viable to give away editorial scholarship of the kind that conventional printing houses are still willing to pay full salaries to commission. The site currently contains no facsimiles and the mission statement ("to make scholarly, fully annotated texts of Shakespeare's plays available") indicates an intention to develop consciously mediated texts rather than facsimiles.

When transcribing literary and dramatic texts Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) provides one way of encoding typographical information using pairs of tags which represent features such as italics (....) and emboldened text (...)9. It can be argued that computer representations of text should encode not the physical structure of a document but rather its logical structure, so tags should rather be of the kind <chapter>....</chapter> and <verse line>....</verse line>. Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) is a standard for defining which tags are used in a particular document and placing information about the tags and any relationships between them (eg that <verse line>...</verse line> must appear within <stanza>...</stanza>> in a Document Type Definition (DTD)10.

The Text Encoding Initiative exists "to develop guidelines for the preparation and interchange of electronic texts for scholarly research". This project is not limited to any period, but one of the editors, Lou Burnard, is attached to the Oxford Text Archive (see below) and is a veteran of etext publishing having overseen the monumental etext (distributed on 360k IBM PC 5.25" floppy disks) of the Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor11. The DTD produced by TEI provides a tagset tailor-made for transcribers of literary texts.

Renaissance Electronic Texts aims to provide a series of "old spelling, SGML-encoded editions of early individual copies of English Renaissance books and manuscripts, and of plain transcriptions of such work, published on the World Wide Web as a free resource for students of the period." The general editor is Ian Lancashire and some of the principles of Text Encoding Initiative were followed, but the texts are not TEI compliant. Ronald B. Bond reviewed the first text from the project, an edition of two Tudor `homilies'12 and noted that the absence of a DTD means that this is not an SGML document until the user writes a DTD "according to the single most important structure for the kind of analysis to be done", as Lancashire put it. It might be argued that TEI is the right umbrella under which this sort of work should be performed, but Lancashire raises important arguments against `generalized' markup (such as SGML) which records meaning and in favour of `formatting' markup (such as HTML) which records appearance. As Lancashire points out, we often do not know what a typographical feature means and can only argue from its appearance. For bibliographical scholars who are making editions of early printed texts, `formatting' markup might be the better choice. Since Bond's review, Lancashire has produced his own DTD for the RET texts, and also a TEI-style header. Lancashire's argument about TEI wishing to capture the intellectual rather than physical structure of books, and Renaissance textual scholars not necessarily being able to tell the difference, is a powerful one.

The Electronic Text Centre at the University of Virginia has a solution to the SGML/HTML divide: they keep the texts in SGML and convert them on-the-fly to HTML as the web-browser interrogates them. The early modern English section of their database contains many Shakespeare etexts but only three are available to callers from outside the University of Virginia and for these (the Q1, Q2, and F1 texts of Shakespeare's Hamlet) the principles used in transcription are not revealed. If one asks for all the texts printed between 1580 and 1620, one gets back these three plus the anonymous Edward 3, Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion, and Cyril Tournier's (sic) The Revenger's Tragedy.

The Oxford Text Archive has existed for many years as a depository which imposes no structure upon the etexts which it holds but merely keeps for redistribution whatever is deposited. The archive contains a considerable number of early modern plays and related material, but little of it is available for anonymous downloading. Encumbered by copyright restrictions imposed by the depositors, most texts must be `signed for': a paper-based declaration of non-commercial usage is necessary.

Literature Online gives access to a combined version of Chadwyck Healey's Verse Drama and Prose Drama databases. These subscription-only services are wonderful if your institution can pay the huge fees demanded for licensing what is in effect the entire body of plays in English from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century. A typical application for the Shakespearian scholar would be a keyword search across the entire extant drama from the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. For example, one can ask (as I recently did) to see every use of the word `placed' in stage directions of all plays from 1580 to 1620; a single usage of a particular theatrical term can be illuminated by considering how other dramatists used the same word. Because all the searching happens at the server end, the response time for huge searches is usually better than could be achieved with the CD-ROM versions of these databases, but the web version cannot produce the `Context of Matches' report so useful in the CD-ROM version. This is a serious limitation enforcing the user to examine every `hit' in turn.


The editors of the nineteenth-century New Variorum series of Shakespeare plays, Horace Howard Furness Senior and Junior, donated their collection of early printed texts to the library of the University of Pennsylvania. These are now being scanned and made available on the website of the university's Centre for Electronic Text and Image. Parts of the Furnesses' 1623 Folio are available in facsimile (with more to come), together with all of their Q2 of Shakespeare's King Lear, Tate's 1681 King Lear, Pope's 1723 King Lear, all of John Benson's 1640 edition of Shakespeare's poems, parts of the 1577 edition of Holinshed's Chronicles, all of Heywood's The Fair Made of the West (1631), and parts of Foxes Actes and Monuments. Easily the most interesting of these to the Shakespearian scholar is the 1623 Folio. The annoying large red graphic that downloads whenever one looks at the Folio is in fact a scan of the outer binding, although perhaps it might have been held separately to save time for those who are more interested in the inside of the book.

One of problems in distributing facsimiles of the 1623 Folio of Shakespeare is that Charlton Hinman's facsimile edition has become the standard work13. For most scholarly purposes Hinman's idealized Folio--prepared from a range of extant copies in order to best represent the final state of press correction for each page--is a desirable standard. But for the special purposes of bibliographical scholars concerned with the minor variations produced by press correction during a print-run raw facsimiles of individual copies are necessary. Microfilm reproductions of early printed texts are usually monochromatic and hinder the identification of different inks and leads used in printing and subsequent handwritten annotation. The full-colour scans of the Furness Folio are highly detailed and this site might just save someone who needed to look at this particular copy a 'plane flight. The Furness Folio is not ideally presented, however. The hypertext links are keyed to particular plays and upon selecting a play one is presented with a small version of the whole page on which it starts. This reduced graphic gives the unfortunate impression that, on a 14 inch monitor (still the standard piece of office equipment in libraries and scholars' studies), the facsimile will be unreadably small. In fact, once one gets into the actual text the level of detail is good enough not only to read the words but also to see broken types.

The Wanamaker Globe

Hosted by the University of Reading, the Wanamaker Globe website contains contemporary drawings related to the Elizabethan playhouse and architectural plans of the project, but scanned at too low a resolution to be really useful. They could not, for example, be blown up and used in teaching because the labels are unreadable. Reports on the scholarly symposia in 1983 and 1986 which thrashed out the general design for the reconstruction are more interesting and are reproduced verbatim (typos excepted) from Renaissance Drama Newsletter14, with added editorial caveats about ideas later dropped and with hyperlinks to works mentioned in the texts. Again, where these are pictures (eg the Hollar sketch), the scanning is of low quality. Only the 1983 symposium transcript is complete so far. The texts of a few of the papers given at International Shakespeare's Globe Centre conferences are available on the site. Apart from the work of persons employed on the project, copyright restrictions (and especially the reluctance of print publishers to let go work they are still selling) keep most of the conference papers off the site.

Email and Usenet News Discussion Groups

The electronic mailing list SHAKSPER has many eminent scholars but unfortunately also has many high-school and undergraduate students and amateurs and it has suffered increasing trivialization as Internet access has spread beyond academia. An unmoderated Shakespeare usenet newsgroup exists but its discussions rarely rise above high-school level.

Concluding Comments

Nothing currently available on the web would justify the cost of buying the computer needed to access it. Even if valuable material were available its use would be problematic since scholarship demands reproducibility: readers must be able to find the works. Because computers on the World Wide Web are the responsibility of their local owner(s) there is no certainty that a resource available today will still be there tomorrow.

Impermanence is the inevitable corollary of instant access and endless alterability. Major stylesheets such as that published by the Modern Language Association of America15 now include information about citing resources on the Internet, but there is a strong argument that scholarly works should not contain references to ephemera. Of course, some resources will be archived by their owners (SHAKSPER, for example, is fully archived and may be cited with confidence) but there is no compulsion to archive. National legislatures long ago enforced state archival of print media in the form of copyright libraries, and outlawed the circumvention of the archival by unlicensed publication. Until this occurs for electronic publication (and there are good reasons to think it will not happen soon) the Web will remain of limited value to scholars and students.

Table of Links




Etexts and Large Corpora


Wanamaker Globe

Email and Usenet news


1. Lamb, Charles and Mary Tales from Shakespear [sic]. Designed for the use of young persons... (London: Godwin, 1809; frequently reprinted)

2. The Works of Mr. William Shakespear [sic] Ed. Nicholas Rowe. 6 volumes (London: Jacob Tonson, 1709)

3. Siemens, Raymond G. "Evolution and Growth in On-line Resources for Early Modern Literary Studies" Early Modern Literary Studies 1.3 (1995): 1:1- 10 URL: http://www.library.ubc.ca/emls/01-3/foreward.html

4. Clare, Janet `Art Made Tongue-Tied By Authority': Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990)

5. Clare, Janet "Transgressing Boundaries: Women's Writing in the Renaissance and Reformation" Renaissance Forum 1.1 (1996) URL: http://www.hull.ac.uk/renforum/v1no1/clare.htm

6. Coyle, Martin "Attacking the Cult-Historicists" Renaissance Forum 1.1 (1996) URL: http://www.hull.ac.uk/renforum/v1no1/coyle.htm

7. Levin, Richard "Marxist Critics And/Or/Versus a Clearer Sense of Justice" Renaissance Forum 1.2 (1996) URL: http://www.hull.ac.uk/renforum/v1no2/levin.htm

8. To date there are ten Shakespeare plays in the series Shakespearean Originals: First Editions, published in London by Prentice Hall and in Hemel Hempstead by Harvester Wheatsheaf between 1992 and 1996 under the general editorship of Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey.

9. For further information on HTML see the homepage of the World Wide Web Consortium at http://www.w3.org.

10. For further information on SGML go to the SGML/XML web page of the Summer Institute of Linguistics at http://www.sil.org/sgml/sgml.html

11. Wells, Stanley and Gary Taylor (eds) William Shakespeare: The Complete Works Electronic edition prepared by Lou Burnard (Oxford: Oxford University, 1988)

12. Bond, Ronald B. "Review of Ian Lancashire (ed) Certaine Sermons or Homilies... (Toronto: Renaissance Electronic Texts, 1994)" Early Modern Literary Studies 2.2 (1996): 15.1-9. Internet. 20 November 1997. URL: http://purl/oclc.org/emls/02-2/rev_bon1.html

13. Hinman, Charlton (ed) Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968)

14. Mulryne, Ronnie and Margaret Shewring (eds) `The Shape of the Globe' and `The Interior of the Globe': Reports On Seminars Held on 29 March 1983 and 12 April 1986 Number 8 of Renaissance Drama Newsletter Supplements (Coventry: University of Warwick Graduate School of Renaissance Studies, 1987)

15. Gibaldi, Joseph MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 4th edition (New York: Modern Language Association, 1995)