Project Name: Internet Shakespeare Editions
Project URL: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/
Project Team: Coordinating Editor: Michael Best; Assistant Coordinating Editor: Janelle Jenstad; General Textual Editor: Eric Rasmussen; Associate Textual Editors: James Mardock and Don Bailey; Performance Editor: Alexa Huang; Life and Times Editors: Kate McPherson and Kate Moncrief; ISE Chronicle Editor: Kevin Quarmby; assisted by volunteer scholars, students, and sponsoring organizations.
Reviewed by: Emily Donahoe
Review Date: 05 March 2015
Tags or Keywords: Shakespeare, internet, scholarly edition, database, performance, teaching resource
Genre: Electronic scholarly edition, research tool, teaching resource
Project Objectives: According to the ISE’s website, its mission is “to inspire a love of Shakespeare’s works in a world-wide audience by delivering open-access, peer-reviewed Shakespeare resources with the highest standards of scholarship, design, and usability” by providing scholarly editions of Shakespeare’s texts, records of the performance of his works, and contextual information about his life and times—a veritable “one-stop shop” of resources in Shakespeare study.
Review: According to project founder and Coordinating Editor Michael Best, the Internet Shakespeare Editions (ISE) sets out to bridge the gap between Shakespearean literary and performance studies and further, the gap between print and electronic mediums by publishing online in the areas of Shakespeare’s texts, contexts, and performances (“The Internet Shakespeare Editions”). The site seeks to become the “one-stop shop” for Shakespeare resources, which is a worthy, if not overly ambitious, goal. I say overly ambitious only because a project of this scope requires nonstop editing and updating and nearly constant site maintenance. Nevertheless, the impressively-credentialed ISE team is more than prepared for these challenges. The project will, when completed (if it might ever be called complete), accomplish this goal, and is in fact doing a good job of accomplishing it now. Though some of the texts are not fully finished, or not yet peer-reviewed, and the performance section of the site is constantly evolving, the ISE offers a range of valuable resources for an unprecedentedly wide audience of scholars and students, actors and theatre professionals alike.
In its “Plays and Poems” section, the site offers introductions to the works of Shakespeare and at least one searchable text (usually multiple texts) of each of Shakespeare’s plays and poems in its quarto or folio edition. Many pages also feature a modern version of the text. Though not all versions have been peer-reviewed, each is tagged according to standards set by the Text Encoding Initiative, and guidelines for editorial processes are available on the site. Perhaps more impressive is the site’s collections of facsimiles. The text of Hamlet, for example, can be viewed within Quarto 1, Quarto 2, the First Folio from the State Library of New South Wales, the First Folio from the Brandeis University Library, and the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios from the State Library of New South Wales; facsimiles of 1709 and 1733 editions are also available. Conveniently, the site allows users to compare two facsimile versions of the same text side by side onscreen, an incredibly valuable resource for graduate students and scholars who do not have access to these publications. Also available for each version are incredibly convenient text analysis tools that allow users generate a variety of statistics about the text and can be valuable to scholars, graduate students, and theatre professionals who are studying these plays.
Linked to each play or poem is related information from the “Life and Times” section and the “Performance” section. The “Life and Times” pages contain short, student-friendly introductions, not only to the texts themselves, but also to Shakespeare’s life and the stage, society, history, drama, literature, and ideas of Shakespeare’s day. This section provides a veritable treasure trove of teaching resources, both for instructors at the high school and early undergraduate level. The “Life and Times” materials are also of value to students who are working on their own and need context for a paper or assignment. Usefully, each page links to a handy guide to citing the ISE, and “Friends of the ISE,” who make donations, are able to view fully formatted citations of each page.
Through the “Performance” section, users can access not only records of each play’s past performances, but also descriptions of productions, cast and crew lists, and information about the theatre companies that produced the plays. Additionally, the site provides high-quality, digitized, performance-related artifacts, including scripts, programs, posters, photographs, videos, press releases, and reviews. The comprehensive nature of this section makes it both incredibly useful and necessarily incomplete. The performance database contains information on productions by both professional and non-professional companies, focusing on those that are not extensively cataloged elsewhere. Since this project would be impossible for a small group of scholars to complete, theatre companies may submit their material to the site in order to begin a “peer review” process before it is included in the database. While the database is, of necessity, incomplete, it is, nevertheless, one of the more valuable resources available for research in Shakespeare and performance studies.
With an impressive Board of Directors, an Editorial Board, an Advisory Board for Performance Materials, a Shakespeare in Performance team, a team of scholars and editors, research assistants, and programmers, the project’s content is carefully reviewed so that the scholarship is sound and current. The site is also fairly easy to navigate: nearly all the content is cross-linked, making browsing easy—so easy that one could spend hours clicking link after link, hopping from one page to another. But even after hours, one would not be able to take in all the information available on the site. This is the main obstacle to using the ISE: there is so much content that navigating through the mountains of information often becomes overwhelming. Though the project certainly fulfills its goal of becoming a one-stop shop for Shakespeare resources, the one-stop format can easily give its users information overload. The goal is a worthy one, but I wonder if the project could more easily be three related projects, three potential Shakespeare sites that could be easily linked and cross-referenced. There are many advantages, however, to having all this information in one place. The linked content is useful, even if it is a little overwhelming to navigate. Having lots of information is a good problem, if indeed it is a problem, to have.
Despite the sometimes overwhelming nature of the project, the ISE offers good, user-friendly, open-access scholarship that appeals to a wide audience. The site supplies crowd-sourced information that is also peer-reviewed, ensuring both inclusiveness and quality. While it provides valuable research tools for scholars and graduate students, it also provides useful information for undergraduates, helpful materials for actors and theatre professionals, and general knowledge for interested members of the general public. Its main accomplishment is creating a resource that appeals to such a broad base without sacrificing its quality. It does indeed bridge the gap between literature and performance, print and digital, but it also contributes to bridging the gaps that often exist between scholars and actors, teachers and students, and Shakespeare and the general public.
Open Access: The ISE is committed to producing Shakespeare resources that are both high quality and open access. However, by making a donation to the organization, “Friends of the ISE” can gain access to enhanced research tools. The ISE also supports the Queen’s Men Editions and Digital Renaissance Editions, and plans to work in partnership with the Map of Early Modern London in the future.
Open Source Shakespeare: http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/
Shakespeare’s Words: http://www.shakespeareswords.com/
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/
The Queen’s Men Editions: http://qme.internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/
Digital Renaissance Editions: http://dre.internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/
Expertise Required: ISE targets multiple audiences, and anyone with internet literacy can make use of the site. Scholars and graduate students can benefit from facsimile versions of texts they are studying, as well as enhanced research tools (for individuals, a modest $25/year), while undergraduate and secondary school students can easily access and cite more basic information about Shakespeare’s life and times. Actors can also make use of the various editions of plays available, and all information is accessible to the general public.
Andrew Murphy, Shakespeare Goes Digital: “Three Open Internet Editions,” Shakespeare Quarterly 61.3 (2010): 401-414.
See also Michael Best, “The Internet Shakespeare Editions: Scholarly Shakespeare on the Web,” Shakespeare 4.3 (2008): 221-233.