Internet Shakespeare Editions

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Standing in Rich Place (1)

And therefore, like a cipher,
 Yet standing in rich place, I multiply
 With one "We thank you" many thousands more
 That go before it.
 (The Winter's Tale, 1.2.6-9)

In his courtly compliment, Polixenes expresses an interestingly mathematical view of the world as he plays with the analogy of a the number one growing exponentially, as zeros are added after it, by a factor of ten. This is assuming, of course, that Shakespeare worked with a decimal rather than binary system. As multiplication is the theme of Polixenes' conceit, multiplicity is the theme of this seminar: multiple texts of single plays, and multiple ways of presenting texts to readers. In this exploration, I start from the triumphant claim of Randal McLeod that "multiple authority is richness" (421).

Speed Hill's taxonomy of types of editions

A convenient place to start in the process of deciphering the multitude of texts and textualities we are encountering in the editing of Shakespeare is W. Speed Hill's taxonomy of different kinds of editions he enumerates in an article of 1996, "Where We Are and How We Got Here: Editing after Poststructuralism." [Note 1] The article is particularly useful in its summary of the developments in the last thirty-odd years in the suddenly prolific and controversial field of textual studies. Hill contrasts the situation in the sixties, when he suggested that an editor of Shakespeare had an effective choice of two kinds of texts -- documentary reprints or copy-text editions [Note 2] -- with the current editor who has a choice of five more kinds:

  1. Multiple-version editions ("deconflations")
  2. "Socialized" editions (following the precepts of Jerome McGann)
  3. Hypertext editions
  4. Genetic editions (Hill suggests that this approach "requires prepublication documents that do not exist for Shakespeare," but uses the interesting word "inclusive" in describing it)
  5. No editions at all -- or the use of facsimiles only (and here he cites the work of Randal McLeod, Michael Warren and Stephen Urkowitz).

To those of us active in the new medium of the electronic text, it is clear that since 1996 the single category "hypertext" has undergone an expansion that will eventually mean that it encompasses all of the various varieties of edited texts that Hill lists, and perhaps more. It is a measure of the distance between 1996 and 2002 that Hill's comment, "hypertext editions [are expensive because they] require customized software," has become dazzlingly inaccurate in an age where Web browsers are distributed free of charge. [Note 3] In the paper that follows, I shall discuss some still experimental electronic texts, look at some of the challenges that those developing hypertext editions face, and explore some new ways of conceiving editions that the new medium makes possible, as it can make manifest the fact that all texts are ultimately multiple texts.


  1. Shakespeare Studies 24 (1996): 38-46. [Back]
  2. Hill adds a third category of less interest to Shakespeareans, the "generic" edition, citing Ringler's edition of Sidney's poems as an example. In addition, he lists the varieties of copy-text editions available, from conservative to eclectic. [Back]
  3. Even when he wrote his comment, Hill seems to have been unaware of the free HyperCard software distributed with Macintosh computers. A. R. Braunmuller's pioneering electronic edition of Macbeth used HyperCard. [Back]

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