Internet Shakespeare Editions

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Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society: The Internet
      Shakespeare Editions

Pacific Northwest Renaissance Society, May 2003. Nanaimo, BC

A session on the The Internet Shakespeare

This site:

Chair: Michael Best


  1. Patrick Finn (St. Mary's College, Calgary): "@ the Table of the Great: Hospitable Editing and the Internet Shakespeare Editions Project. " Abstract; biography.
  2. Jennifer Forsyth (Linn-Benton Community College): "Playing with Wench-like Words: Copia and Surplus in ISE Cymbeline." Abstract; biography.
  3. Alan Galey (University of Western Ontario): "Dizzying the Arithmetic of Memory: Shakespearean Source Documents as Data Objects." Abstract; biography.
  4. Eric Rasmussen (University of Nevada, Reno): " 'Tis most credible: Textual fidelity in print and online." Abstract; biography.

Patrick Finn

Title: "@ the Table of the Great: Hospitable Editing and the Internet Shakespeare Editions Project."

By all accounts, early stagings of Shakespeare's plays welcomed patrons from a wide range of the social spectrum. Can we say the same for the text-based editions of the plays? Over the past four hundred years publishers, scholars, editors and readers have maintained a discussion concerning the dissemination of the plays. Questions involving accessibility, usability and presentation remain central to these concerns. That debate has now carried over into the digital realm.

Recent discussions concerning the influence of digital technology make much of the democratizing power of the World Wide Web. The notion that an informed public is a more democratically effective public enjoys a long history in political philosophy. Media theorists are currently working hard to have governments and industry shrink the "information gap" based on the supposition that universal access to the World Wide Web is as fundamental as access to health care and education. But is more information necessarily better? Can information delivered without regard for its use and presentation be useful? In much the same way that early modern printers negotiated an expanding field of information in a climate of radical technological change, today's web editors are testing new ground trying to find ways to create useful interactions for readers and viewers.

My paper will argue that one way that we can create editions that are both accessible and useful is to practice what I call "hospitable editing." Hospitable editing creates editions and/or interfaces that foreground the wellbeing of their guests, thereby ensuring not only that readers and viewers are invited to the table of the great, but that they are given the tools to enjoy themselves while in attendance. As an example, I will show why I believe the Internet Shakespeare Editions is an hospitable environment.

The Internet Shakespeare Editions provides free access to a specific body of information - namely texts and transcriptions of Shakespeare's plays. It also presents a detailed series of contextual information to support reading in its Life and Times component. Critical editions compliment old spelling transcriptions and an expanding performance database and archive of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America provide important elements of multimedia, performance and community representation. The combination results in particularly welcoming surroundings. My paper will sample this feast and raise a glass to propose a toast to our hospitable hosts.

Biography: Patrick Finn is Assistant Professor of English at St. Mary's College, Calgary. His research and teaching focus on Late Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Textual and Media Studies, Bibliography and Information Technology. He is currently at work on a collection of essays entitled Shakespeare and Information Technology and is co-authoring a book with Samuel A. Chambers entitled The Culture of Politics, the Politics of Culture.

Jennifer Forsyth

Title: "Playing with Wench-like Words: Copia and Surplus in ISE Cymbeline"

Despite the reputation of being a dry, tedious, and, above all, rational pursuit, the process of editing is often born of and sustained by passion; and, as those who have participated in or even merely witnessed conversations surrounding editing will recognize, our debates are nothing if not emotional. Nevertheless, decades of rationalistic editions have attempted to efface the presence of the editor, presenting an ostensibly "neutral" text, a phenomenon which has coincided with a general suppression of discussions of the collaborative nature of early modern textual production. With the increasing attention to social theories of editing, however, a parallel need to reveal the means of re-production has arisen for editors, and one of the ways of accomplishing this is to draw attention to the editor. Yet, the only generally respected editorial ethos in our community is one which conceals the individual who is not only editing but in many cases writing an increasing percentage of the material. This paper will draw upon my experiences editing Cymbeline to explore the ways in which the Internet, like the early modern stage, represents a space where gendered perceptions of logic and emotion, copia and surplus, contest for primacy, coupled with the persistent struggle between individual and collaborative publication, and how the I.S.E. has an opportunity to reform instead of extend the constraints of print publication.

Biography: Jennifer Forsyth received her Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2002 and is currently an adjunct instructor at Linn-Benton Community College. She is editing Cymbeline for the Internet Shakespeare Editions, has served as an editorial assistant on the New Variorum Hamlet forthcoming from MLA and the Arden 3 edition of King Henry VI Part 3, and has contributed to a variety of other textual projects. Apparently condemned by nature to enjoy the marginal, she not only edits and favors less popular Shakespeare plays such as Cymbeline but also is a self-confessed Fletcherian; her conference presentations include "Who's On Top: John Fletcher and Narratives of Collaboration," "'The Wounded Womb': Transgressing Ideals in The Double Marriage and Macbeth," and "Drama in the Age of Fletcher."


Alan Galey

Title: "Dizzying the Arithmetic of Memory: Shakespearean Source Documents as Data Objects"

Any electronic transcription of a Shakespearean quarto or folio must somehow serve two masters, the scholar who values representational fidelity to a material document, and the scholar who demands representational innovation from a potent medium. These imperatives need not conflict, as the Internet Shakespeare Editions has shown, but rather bring related epistemological questions to bear on received texts. To make a quarto or folio transcription machine-readable, what must we assume about the human-readable information already embodied in the source document? Conversely, how do Shakespeare's plays prompt us to think differently about modeling textual information that travels between stage, page, and screen?

This paper will address these questions based on my own research in adapting ISE transcriptions to multiple markup formats. In particular, I will discuss existing models for electronic documents, such as the Text Encoding Initiative, and how they might account for early modern drama as a uniquely complex form.


Alan Galey is a Ph.D. student at the University of Western Ontario, specializing in Renaissance drama, textual studies, and humanities computing. His Master's thesis, completed last year at the University of Victoria, is an electronic critical edition of The Taming of a Shrew, an anonymous 1594 quarto that is ambiguously related to Shakespeare's play. His research interests include the history of Shakespearean editing as it relates to interface design in electronic text, and more broadly, intersections of early modern knowledge technologies and twentieth century information culture.


Eric Rasmussen

Title: " 'Tis most credible: Textual fidelity in print and online"

Users generally do not expect exceptional textual fidelity from editions of early modern works available online; indeed, some internet editions warn readers that although their "texts have been produced with care and attention" they are not "scholarly editions in the peer-reviewed sense" (Renascence Editions). But the Internet Shakespeare Editions project represents a new paradigm. Through a process of peer-review and rigorous editorial oversight, the ISE is attempting to make available scholarly editions of high quality in a format native to the medium of the internet. During the years in which the ISE has raised the standards of textual accuracy for internet editions, however, there has been a curious falling off of these standards in print editions such as the Oxford Shakespeare. [Note 1] And yet, it's probably safe to say that most Shakespeareans continue to trust the textual authority of the Oxford Shakespeare over the ISE. This paper will explore the paradox of the current credibility gap in which serious readers still seem to prefer demonstrably flawed texts in print over superior texts online.


Eric Rasmussen is Professor of English and Chair of Graduate Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is General Textual Editor of the Internet Shakespeare Editions and co-editor of The Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama (2002), the Arden Shakespeare edition of King Henry VI Part 3 (2001), the Oxford World's Classics edition of Marlowe's major plays (1995), and the Revels Plays edition of Doctor Faustus (1993). He has just completed editing Cynthia's Revels for the Cambridge Works of Ben Jonson and is currently editing Everyman and Mankind for the Arden Early Modern Drama series along with the New Variorum Hamlet.



  1. In my role as general textual editor for the ISE, I have gone over Hardy Cook's edition of Venus & Adonis and Roger Apfelbaum's Romeo & Juliet with some care and can report that they are textually perfect; my review of the editions of these texts in the Oxford Shakespeare series, on the other hand, revealed serious errors: Colin Burrow's new Oxford edition of the poems is littered with some genuine howlers, including "breathes" for "breeds", "wretch" for "wench", "ringing" for "hanging", "will" for "ill", and "sweet" for "swift"; Jill Levenson's Oxford edition of Romeo & Juliet, among other high crimes and misdemeanors, accidentally omits five lines of the play. See my annual review of "The Year's Contributions to Shakespeare Studies: Editions and Textual Studies," in Shakespeare Survey. [Back]