Prof. Neil Fraistat
I'm sure that's the case. I have a quotation from two different quartos of Hamlet's most famous soliloquy.
Well, that's one witness account of what Hamlet said on a particular performance. Now another witness we have, in what's called Hamlet Quarto One , renders the soliloquy:
Well... there it went! Which is the real Hamlet soliloquy? Shakespeare did not publish in print any of his plays, so we have no first hand report back from him - there is no "Authorized Shakespeare." What we have are the reports that are in these various quartos. And there are various theories about how the quartos came into print. Some people believe that actors with minor roles in the play would memorize the other people's lines and then capitalize on the currency of the play by - to the best of their recollection - putting together a transcript and having it printed.
Some people think that rather than the minor characters doing it, there were rival actors and people from rival companies sitting in the place trying to memorize the entire play and then likewise trying to get it into print.
Still other Shakespeare scholars believe that the quartos may have come - some of them - from the "foul papers" of a particular production. So someone in the production has the multiply revised and worked-over script of the play and tries to produce a printed volume from there. The important thing to understand is, besides the quartos, the only other significant witness we have of what actually was performed by Shakespeare's company and approved by him, is the First Folio, which was published by two people from his company seven years after he died.
So when we're watching a particular Shakespeare play, it's hard to know how much of it is Shakespeare.
We're dependent on the mediation of textual scholars, who look at the quartos, who look at the First Folio, and try to come to some reasonable approximation of what Shakespeare might actually have wanted to be done. More recently, in the past twenty years, scholars who look at the vast differences of these different versions have started to say, "Well, there isn't anything like a single King Lear." King Lear was produced by conflating (combining) very radically different versions of the play, and then, once that was done somewhat successfully and performed, that became the traditional King Lear that was modified in various ways over time, but it seemed like there was only one King Lear. Now you might, if you're in a class, a graduate class certainly, you may actually read it in two very different editions that vary greatly from each other because scholars have no confidence that any conflation of those two really gets to the heart of what the play actually was, when the play was performed by Shakespeare's company.
So the quartos are the best evidence besides the First Folio of that, and the public really hasn't had access to them: they're extremely rare, and what we hope to do is make available to the world every single extant copy of the pre-1641 quartos held by the major repositories in the world.
Q - I understand this grant covers just the first year of this project?
This is a one-year grant, and it will allow us to produce a technical proof of concept - a working model for what the whole archive will look like. And what we're doing is focusing on the 32 known quartos of Hamlet - and we'll try to make a fully functional archive with tha. We hope we're successful with that and we can go on to gather all the rest of the quartos.
It's a really exciting collaboration. The main partners on the American side are the Folger Shakespeare Library, which holds the greatest number of quartos in the world; the Huntington Library in California, and MITH.
The partners on the British side are the British Library, the Bodleian Library of Oxford, the National Library of Scotland and the University of Edinburg Library. MITH will be creating the technical infrastructure and interface - the entire electronic environment in which the quartos, in their electronic form, will live and be used.
Q - Once the one year pilot is finished, how long do you anticipate it will take to finish the entire project?
We won't be able to answer that in a really definitive way until we see how long it takes to do what we want to do - maybe another three years after this initial year.
Q - If you were telling a high school English teacher about why this is important, what would you say?
That her students - for the first time ever - will be able to look at the original textual witnesses to Shakespeare's plays to compare them to the plays themselves, and to think about the meaning of those plays in new ways. Part of the functionality of the web archive will be that students will be able to create exhibits collecting various page images from the quartos, annotating them, and then publishing them online for others to see.
Students will also be able to tag various parts of the quartos - in effect, producing interpretation on the fly: "This passage in Hamlet seems especially violent to me." Well as those tags accumulate, we'll be able to get a kind of "student's eye view" of how Hamlet, for instance, is being read. We in fact have a group of high school teachers and students who will be working with the prototype during the year to give us feedback on what functionalities they'd like to see - and what they'd like to see more of.
We also have one other partner in this grant - The Shakespeare Institute, which is in Stratford, but based from the University of Birmingham, and their teachers, scholars and students will also be working with the prototype giving us feedback and functionality about what they'd like to see. And I'd also like to bring our English Department into this process, and have our teachers teaching Shakespeare and our students studying Shakespeare use the prototype and tell us what they think.
Q - Why is this project so critical?
One of the most important things that is happening in the world today is the migration of our cultural heritage into digital form. And that's the great enterprise that so many digital humanities sectors are currently involved in helping. And in that great enterprise, I can't think of many more valuable things than to give access to the world of some of the rarest and most important documents concerning Shakespeare's plays.
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