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32 Hamlet quartos at your fingertips from JISC & NEA

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the United Kingdom’s Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has expanded The Shakespeare Quartos Archive, a free, digital collection of quarto editions of William Shakespeare’s plays. Launched by the British Library in 2004, the project brought together six institutions in the UK and the US to reproduce at least one copy of every edition of Shakespeare’s plays printed in quarto before the theaters closed in 1642.

The site has currently been expanded to include the The Shakespeare Quartos Archive — Hamlet Prototype where:

. . . you can view full cover-to-cover digital reproductions and transcriptions of thirty-two copies of the five earliest editions of the play Hamlet.

. . .

A cross-Atlantic collaboration has also produced an interactive interface for the detailed study of these geographically distant quartos, with full functionality for all thirty-two quarto copies of Hamlet held by participating institutions.

. . .

You can view quartos separately, or alongside any number of copies. You can search, annotate, make public or private sets of annotations, create exhibits or character cue line lists, and download and print text and images.

I was able to access the Hamlet quartos using the Google Chrome browser and had no difficulty viewing the books, zooming, and turning pages without registering to the site. If you register at the site you can use extensive research tools including making manuscript annotations that may be private or open to the public. Registering was quick and painless; name and birthdate were required information.

I don’t know how much of a Shakespeare geek you have to be to get as big a thrill as I got out of just looking at those books, but I don’t think you have to be too geeky to agree this is a magnificent achievement.

More information about the resource was available on the site including the following details:

(This) interactive interface and toolset (is) aimed at facilitating scholarly research, performance studies, and new pedagogical applications derived from detailed examination and comparison of the quartos. Tools and functions include the ability to:

  • overlay text images
  • compare images side-by-side
  • search full-text
  • mark and tag text images with user annotations
  • create public or private sets of annotations
  • create exhibits or character cue line lists, and
  • download and print text and images

The interface prototype is at present fully functional for one play, Hamlet. The prototype is best viewed using the Firefox web browser, version 3.0 or higher. Many features have been tested and will also run on Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, and 8. Digitized images of all thirty-two pre-1642 copies of Hamlet held by participating libraries have undergone full-text transcription and encoding by staff at the Oxford Digital Library. The prototype has been assessed using professionally facilitated experimentation coordinated by the British Library, evaluation by graduate students and faculty at the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham, and evaluation by readers, staff, and secondary school teachers at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Future plans: The Shakespeare Quartos Archive plans to apply full-level Hamlet functionality to all plays in quarto, expand available online facsimiles by seeking involvement from new partner institutions with relevant holdings, and extend browser compatibility to all major web browsers.

An article on this topic titled “Shakespeare goes digital: the earliest editions of the Bard’s plays will soon be accessible online in a new digital archive” by Louise Tickle was published January 26, 2010 in The Guardian.

About Linda Theil

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