Internet Shakespeare Editions

Bringing the screen to book?

Silver Currents, page 4

The kinds of textual tools I envision as part of a complete ISE edition are far from those we are accustomed to find in print. But print, as we all know, is a technology of both power and convenience. I am often asked, not I think very seriously, whether I think that the computer will ever replace the book (my response is the easy one: no -- just as the book has not yet fully replaced the manuscript). A more interesting question is how the two media might work together, each doing what it does best. Most of my students now turn to the Web as their first resource as they begin an enquiry about a play, but my experience in teaching Shakespeare online has taught me that students overwhelmingly prefer a printed course guide, even though an electronic version is free.

In the earlier part of this paper I have discussed some of the ways in which the electronic medium can create experiences with the text that are different from those of the print medium: the space to present multiple texts, more extensive annotation, extensive supporting documentation (text, graphic, sound and video), the capability of highlighting variants according to user-generated preferences, a text that can be improved and updated, searchability, and access to built-in concordances and other analytical software. Print, on the other hand offers stability, portability, familiarity, and a surface that can be readily annotated (so long as the book is one's own, of course).

Some editions of Shakespeare designed for teaching already provide Web resources for teachers and students, and the Norton and Arden Shakespeares have their associated CD ROMs. There are also some subscription services that provide supporting materials for teaching Shakespeare.[Note 11] The opportunity offered by associating a print edition with a fully-fledged, freely available and scholarly Web edition, however, is rather different, and would invite a process of what Richard Grusin and J. David Bolter have called "remediation" (Grusin and Bolter 1999). Accordingly, the two formats might be designed to look each somewhat like the other. The ISE already favours a clean, uncluttered screen that avoids the busy, television-like look of many sites; a print version might echo the navigational signs of the Web, and could use small icons to indicate where the electronic version has additional information. The availability of detailed scholarly annotation on the Web would make it less incumbent on the print version to include extensive discussion of such scholarly material as intricate textual debates, and annotation in general could be light, since there is always the opportunity to explore more deeply online.

The process of bringing Shakespeare back to book from the Web might stimulate further experiment with the design of the book. Print already has its conventions for a kind of hypertext linking (footnotes, page references and so on), but it would be possible to simulate electronic linking more fully by interspersing pages within the linear flow of the print text where other issues are raised. As well as illustrations of performance, a page could contain additional discussion of staging, possibly using diagrams of suggested blocking commissioned from an experienced director, or comments on performance cruxes of various kinds; it could quote short passages from Shakespeare's sources, or from documents that illuminate a passage on the facing page; it could record a fuller note on a particularly interesting passage, and so on.

These remarks are essentially speculative and exploratory, but my point is that there is an opportunity to create a productive symbiosis between the media: and here is where I justify the title and epigraph for this paper. The two silver currents of print and screen together have the potential as they join to enhance (yes, even glorify) the rich resources they record in Shakespeare's texts. There is much yet to be written in the history of bringing Shakespeare to both book and screen.

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Note

[11] The demise of ArdenOnLine can be attributed in part to the fact that the online texts did not exploit the medium extensively, thus offering little more than the print edition. [Back]

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