Internet Shakespeare Editions

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Help: Shakespeare's Plays and Poems

Exploring Shakespeare's plays and poems

The Internet Shakespeare Editions (ISE) offers a wide variety of ways to view and explore Shakespeare's plays and poems.

Old-spelling and modern-spelling texts

When Shakespeare's plays were first published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, spelling was much less fixed than today. The ISE site publishes all the plays and poems in the original spelling, complete with errors so that you can see how an editor has changed the original in modernizing it. As each play is being re-edited for the ISE, modern-spelling versions are being added; these include annotations and other aids to understanding the play or poem.

The main menu

The main menu provides links to the home page for the work you are viewing, its title page, and this help window. The title page lists links to all versions of the work, and to any introductory or supplementary materials the editor has provided as part of the complete edition.

Views of the plays and poems

At the top of each page you will see pull-down menus that allow you to switch from one view to another. Depending on the version you are looking at, you can view the texts in different ways.

 Plays and poems can each be divided into one or more volumes: all will have at least one old-spelling version, while some have up to three (Romeo and Juliet, or Hamlet, for example). In addition, an increasing number have a modern-spelling version as the editors complete them. You can choose to view any of these versions by selecting them from the Volume pull-down menu; the choices will change according to the work you are viewing.

Depending on the work you are viewing, you may see some or all of these options:

  1. The modern-spelling edition
  2. The old-spelling transcription of the version published in the First Folio of 1623
  3. The old-spelling transcription of a First Quarto
  4. The old-spelling transcription of a Second Quarto

Quartos of some of the plays were published in Shakespeare's lifetime, and were the equivalent of today's paperbacks. The First Folio, published seven years after Shakespeare's death, was the first full collection of his works, almost half of which had not been published before. In some cases (Hamlet is a good example) all versions differ from one another; it is the job of the editor to create one or more modern texts from these varying versions.

 Once you have selected the volume you wish to explore, you can view it in different ways, according to the version you have selected.

  1. By scene divisions. Note that many scene divisions were added by an editor after the play was first published.
  2. By pages. This view re-creates the format of the page as originally published. (This view is not available for the modern-spelling version since it is an electronic text.)
  3. By Entire Work. Choose this option to see or print the whole play.

 Use this pull-down menu to go to a specific part of the work you are viewing. You will be able to select scenes in a play, stanzas in a long poem, and so on.

You can also use the forward and back buttons to navigate through the work.

Line (TLN):
 Within a page you can go directly to a line number. These are Through Line Numbers (TLNs), numbered from the beginning of the play through to the end; the numbers are taken from those created in the First Folio of 1623.

The reason we do not number lines within each scene is that line numbers in an electronic text will change in prose passages with different screens and browsers.

Facsimile view

From the Facsimile pull-down menu, you can go immediately to the graphic facsimile of the scene or page you are viewing.