Internet Shakespeare Editions

Internet Shakespeare Editions: Aims and Structure

The general aim of the Internet Shakespeare Editions is to make scholarly, fully annotated texts of Shakespeare's plays available in a form native to the medium of the Internet. This page provides additional detail on the academic aims and structure of the ISE.Please send comments and suggestions to Michael Best, <>. Responses and suggestions related to these topics will be posted in a discussion area from time to time.

You can, if you wish, download this file for future reference.

General Objectives

The general aim of the Internet Editions of Shakespeare will be to make available scholarly editions of high quality in a format native to the medium of the Internet.

The Target Audience

The principle audience for the editions will be Shakespeare scholars and advanced students at the university/college level. The nature of the electronic edition, however, is such that more general readership can be accommodated.

The Value of Internet Editions

Internet editions of Shakespeare will contribute to the scholarly community in at least four major ways. They will

  1. Provide a powerful and widely accessible scholarly and teaching resource
  2. Encourage a community of scholars, both those working on the editions and those accessing them
  3. Capitalize on the hypertext capabilities of the World Wide Web to create a new kind of edition
  4. Develop an archive of digitized images, sound, and video as a resource for performance criticism and performance-based teaching.

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The Academic Structure

An Editorial Board

In order to interest scholars in contributing to the editions, an editorial board of the highest calibre has been assembled. The Editorial Board is responsible for establishing general editorial guidelines and standards, and approving editors and referees. Membership on the Editorial Board reflects expertise in textual editing, performance history, art history, and renaissance music, and the encoding of electronic texts.

The Board will

Refereed Resources

All material submitted to the editions will be subject to a process of reading (or equivalent in the case of sound and video contributions) by qualified referees. Only refereed materials will appear in the sections of the site called the "Library" and the "Theater."

Unless otherwise indicated, all material stored directly on the site of the editions will either be in the public domain, or freely available for scholarly, educational, and non-profit use.

All providers of materials for the site retain copyright of their work. The Internet Shakespeare Editions retains copyright of the navigational structure of the material, and of the graphic design of the site.

Since much existing material illustrating performance is held under copyright, one major aim of the editions will be to create an archive of text, graphic, sound, and video materials from sources not limited by copyright. In many cases this will involve tapping the creative energies of smaller professional ensembles, companies, festivals, university schools of performance, and the more polished amateur groups that put on Shakespeare plays every year around the world. The intention will be to make it an honour to be included, with the attendant value of recognition for the donating performers.

The Internet as Medium

If Coleridge's designation of Shakespeare's plays as "organic" in form has become less popular in recent years, the metaphor will work well enough in describing the nature of an electronic text designed to be native to the Internet. The printed page is final, the electronic page dynamic. As material is completed it can be placed on the net in a form often described as "under construction." Even the texts of the plays, while reasonably static once put on line, can be changed if new scholarship convinces the editor that a different reading is to be preferred; the supporting texts, which can be added to and updated, will be more noticeably dynamic. Since some links in the annotation will refer to data outside the immediate environment of the editions, there will be a process of continuous updating and checking of data and links.

The Design and Use of the Editions

The Internet is a wonderfully varied and unpredictable structure. The typical use of resources on it is captured by the term used for the software that makes it possible: "browsers" allow users to browse. It is likely that for the foreseeable future the user of a Shakespeare edition on the Internet will be interested in going to the site for a specific purpose, finding an answer or downloading some files, then perhaps not returning for months. The design of an Internet Shakespeare must allow for "hit and run" users, perhaps even more than those who actually spend several hours working with a single play on-line. Thus it must be easy to move quickly to a given passage or commentary, and files must be structured in such a way that users can download the major component parts to a scene or passage in order to continue the exploration on their local machines.

It will also be true for many years that users will vary from those who have "text-only" browsers and relatively slow modems to those using a sophisticated graphics interface with a fast ethernet connection. Thus a well-designed edition will be available in several formats, from plain, pre-formatted text to intelligently marked up texts that allow for attractive display and advanced textual analysis.

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All texts will be available in a variety of formats, at least as the following:

  1. Text only
  2. HTML (HyperText Markup Language) for WWW browsers
  3. XML (eXtensible Markup Language) for more advanced browsing and analysis.
  4. PDF (Portable Document Format) to allow for printing from different computers

All texts will be initially encoded in a simplified tagset designed specifically for the editions, since the other formats can be readily derived from it.

The Modern Edited Text

The initial aim will be to produce generally conservative texts with an emphasis on readability and accessibility, though there will be some flexibility in editorial approaches. Since electronic or graphic versions of the original Folio and Quartos (where relevant) will also be provided, the modern edition can at any time be compared with the texts from which it is generated with the click of a mouse; the corollary of this structure is that the editor need be less concerned to retain such features of the originals as archaic forms, or non-standard punctuation.

As the collection grows, it will be possible to give the browser a choice of more than one modern text, especially in those cases where there are multiple source texts. Thus there could in due course be three modern texts of Lear: a traditionally conflated text, and texts of both the Quarto and Folio edited separately.

Source Texts

Electronic versions of the Folio and relevant Quartos are available in a variety of formats:

  1. Text only, in a readable format, making the necessary compromises (no long "s" for example). Available with WWW browsers as preformatted text
  2. Text in HTML format for access as formatted text on the World Wide Web
  3. Text tagged in SGML (see Appendix A below for a discussion of the extent of tagging)
  4. Digitized graphic files (where permission can be gained).

Much of the work of encoding the original Quarto and Folio texts has been undertaken by graduate assistants.


The level of annotation will be aimed at the scholar. While some variation may be possible between different editions, the aim will be to encourage annotation at least to the level of detail of such editions as the Arden or New Cambridge.

As a hypertext medium, the Internet will allow for more than one kind of annotation. In general it will be desirable to structure direct annotation on the text in three levels:

  1. A basic explanatory note
  2. A more detailed scholarly annotation
  3. Detailed additional notes, accessed via the second level note.

From the second level, the detailed annotation, it will be possible where relevant to link to the source texts, the collation, or other materials. The open nature of the Internet will make it possible to establish links, for example, with materials like the Homilies, now available at the University of Toronto (


Housed in a separate file, the collation will be structured to link to the electronic versions of the source texts directly. Because there will be no need to cram it into a runic layer of small print on a page between the text and the annotations, the collation can be fuller and more explanatory than in traditional texts. The aim will be to make it fully comprehensible when it is read separately from the texts it describes. Detailed historical collation will be included only when there is particular interest in a crux, or where the historical interpretations are of interest in their own right. There is no intention to make the editions approximate a Variorum edition in this respect.

Sources and Analogues

Where specific sources and analogues for the plays are known, these will be made available, linked where appropriate to the annotation so that the reader can quickly switch from the relevant passage in the play to its source.

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Performance Records


Ideally, the editions will become an archive of graphic representations of performance. Since much of this material is housed in libraries and archives, it may be some time before there is significant historical material available. Several major institutions, however, have given permission for their materials to appear on the Internet Shakespeare Editions site. In the interim, the editions will collect such photographic materials as are made available from professional or polished amateur productions.

Where possible there will also be supporting graphic materials from renaissance sources (contemporary representations of witches in the case of Macbeth, for example); if such material is not forthcoming from libraries that hold the originals, there will in many cases be adequate nineteenth century engravings based on the originals.

Graphic files will usually be available both as fairly small, low-resolution images, and as high resolution images suitable for slower downloading.

Sound and Video

Sound archives could be of two kinds: illustrations of songs or musical passages in the plays, and voice-only performance of particular scenes. Again there are copyright problems with existing recordings; the most likely source of sound performances will be the result of the cooperation of early music ensembles in creating special recordings.

In video, copyright restrictions mean that it is unlikely that well-known movie performances will be available. The most creative response is to make a virtue of necessity: to collect and make available video sequences from companies and productions willing to donate them; in the spirit of the Internet, performances from around the world could be archived and categorized for comparative viewing. One early challenge of the editorial process will be developing a sufficiently descriptive set of keywords to allow for rapid and convenient searching on various qualities of productions.

The process of choosing material for archiving graphic, sound, and video material will involve the equivalent of "readers" to ensure that the archives maintain a high scholarly and technical quality.

Critical Materials

Though not in the first instance as important as the texts themselves, the Internet editions could over time include a growing anthology of criticism specific to the plays. Early critics can relatively easily be included from early out-of-copyright editions and OCR scanning. More recent writings will be more of a challenge, but if the editions are of a high scholarly standard it will be seen as an achievement to be asked to contribute, and many of those writers who retain copyright on their work will be glad to see it included.

Critical articles will be linked to the plays as appropriate (where passages are referred to or quoted), and to each other. There will also be indexes and keywords that allow for searching for particular periods, authors, kinds of criticism and so on.

A Critical Introduction

Scholarly editions of the plays traditionally offer a critical introduction to the play, in which the editor provides both an overview of previous critical attitudes to the play and a personal view. The Internet Editions will provide a separate survey of criticism of the play and the opportunity for the editor to contribute a critical essay of his or her own to the anthology of criticism.

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On the ISE site, a critical discussion of the history plays will include embedded links to all the plays referred to, and annotation to a text referring to parallel or related passages in another play will direct the reader directly to it. The number of possible links of this kind will grow as the project grows.

Already on the World Wide Web there are a growing number of scholarly sites dealing with subjects that will be of interest to those studying the texts of Shakespeare. A list of such sites is maintained as part of the ISE. As editors develop their commentary it will be possible to link directly to sites that provide further information on a variety of topics from performance history to renaissance music, to the works of Shakespeare's contemporaries. Links of this kind are by their nature dynamic and changeable as the external sites grow, so the ISE will build in a system of regular maintenance of all external links.

In due course it may be possible to make available sophisticated tools for computer text analysis, such as Don Foster's SHAXICON and the text-analysis program TACT.

A Dynamic Discussion

An attractive possibility in developing an Internet site for scholarship on Shakespeare is that it is possible to build into it a forum in which scholars could discuss issues raised by the material put on the site. This discussion would be different in kind from those at present available on the SHAKSPER listserv or Shakespeare newsgroups; it will concentrate on specific issues raised by the texts themselves, or any related material actually archived on the site. Thus a discussion might centre on specific readings in the modern edition, or point out inaccuracies in an electronic representation of a Folio text; contributors might wish to suggest additional annotation to one of the texts, or might wish to add an external pointer. While the forums would be open to all with access to the Internet, actual changes in the editions would be made only at the recommendation of the editor or a referee.

Supporting Graduate Students and Young Faculty

One major aim of the editions will be to provide training for graduate students and an opportunity for young faculty to publish in the highly competitive area of Shakespeare studies.

At present, the project employs one full-time graduate student and one part-time undergraduate student to prepare many of the "base" documents: initial encoding of the Folio and Quarto texts, the major sources and analogues, and perhaps a working version of the modern text. Students thus become familiar both with the editorial skills required for working on renaissance texts, and with modern electronic technologies.

In addition to senior scholars in the field with an interest in contributing, young faculty will be invited to edit individual plays. Because the invitation will be made by a distinguished Editorial Board, the edition will be a publication of prestige, and, as with the graduate students, the process of producing the editions will in effect be training a new generation of scholars for a new medium.

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