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The texts

Modern texts
Included as part of the CD ROM are modern-spelling texts of all the plays and poems. These texts are in the public domain, and may be used without restriction.

The main usefulness of these texts will be for compiling scripts for acting. Scenes may be printed individually, or the plays copied into a word processor. Interested students may notice that words and sometimes whole speeches of the plays differ in different editions. You can direct them to the old-spelling texts to see what the modern editors had to choose from, and why different versions will vary.

Old-spelling texts
The CD includes texts of three plays as they were originally printed. Each of the plays chosen has a particularly interesting early history. When we pick up a modern text of Hamlet , it looks complete, neat, and well-documented. In his epic film of the play, Kenneth Branagh made it clear that his aim was to present the play complete and uncut. What few readers, or viewers of the Branagh film, will realize is that the "complete" Hamlet was an invention of later editors, never performed in Shakespeare's time.

Advanced students will find the comparison between the originals and a modern text fascinating, both because they present puzzles in their own right, and because they will realize that the text that we take for granted is not fully "fixed," so that varying interpretations of the play become not only possible but almost necessary.

The concordances

Advanced students who are exploring Shakespeare's language may find the concordances useful in pursing patterns of imagery and other linguistic signs in the plays (Othello has a significantly higher frequency of the word "now" than the other major tragedies...). Students who are taking a course or play on Shakespeare as an elective, and whose major area of interest is in the sciences may also find this approach stimulating.

The main usefulness of the concordances is to provide a kind of "vertical" reading of the plays, where apparently widely separated parts of the play are brought together by a common vocabulary. Give your students an opportunity to explore the words of the plays: to find out which are common words (apart from words like "the"!) and which are unusual. We often like to think of Shakespeare's characters as being "real" or "realistic" -- but he uses the word "real" only twice in all his plays. Ask your students to look both for words that seem to turn up often in the plays (does "love" appear in Romeo and Juliet more often than in Hamlet or As You Like It?), but for words that appear rarely, or not at all..

The essence of this exercise is to explore, to browse through a play vertically and to invite your students to be prepared to be surprised. Sometimes characters unexpectedly share a vocabulary that others do not; sometimes images cluster in one part of the play, or in one character.

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The Internet Shakespeare Editions is a non-profit organization. All proceeds from the CD-ROM go to research and development.