Digital Humanities’ Shakespeare Problem
Indeed, it is the decision-making where Shakespeare too often gets pulled artificially to the fore: sometimes even in the foundational decisions about project scope. The next section of the essay explores how single authors are represented in small-scale digital resources versus large-scale digital resources, thinking about them in terms of labor, funding, and project scope.It is now easier, in some contexts, to digitize an entire library collection than to pick through and choose what should be included and what should not: in other words, storage is cheaper than decision-making. The result is that the rare, the lesser known, the overlooked, the neglected, and the downright excluded are now likely to make their way into digital library collections, even if only by accident.
2. The Shakespeare/Not Shakespeare Divide in Digital Humanities Resources
Despite their non-Shakespearean focus, or, indeed, perhaps because of it, their project title, URL (beforeshakespeare.com), “About” description, and Twitter account similarly centralize Shakespeare in the literary canon, even while resisting this positioning. The “About” page explains, “Before Shakespeare is also the first project to take seriously the mid-century beginnings of those playhouses, seeing them as mid-Tudor and early Elizabethan phenomena rather than becoming distracted by the second generation of people working in the playhouses, the most famous of whom is William Shakespeare himself” (Kesson et al. 2016, “About”). Their Twitter avatar (@B4Shakes, as of January 2019) is a picture of Shakespeare himself, though with the word “before” covering his eyes and with his mouth silenced by a series of decorative fleurons. There hardly seems to be an elegant solution for digital projects designed to push attention away from Shakespeare. As the most recognizable literary figure from his day, it could be argued that a site designed to appeal to the general public would be remiss to avoid naming him: there is no need to turn him into he-who-must-not-be-named, giving the name of Shakespeare even more power. Furthermore, for a project aiming to reach “wider audiences within and beyond scholarship”, name-dropping Shakespeare can be an effective way to attract people to their site and social media, which will then offer “a powerful advertisement for the force and fascination of currently ‘non-canonical’ plays” (Davies and Kesson, forthcoming).The digital presence of “Before Shakespeare” is centered around showcasing various media at once: archives, discussion, videos, images, performance, and song—from Soundcloud to YouTube—to increase the visibility of non-Shakespearean drama and diversify its availability and appeal beyond printed editions and text.
3. Digital Editions and the Privileging of Shakespeare’s Text
Even as they undertake important work on early modern drama beyond Shakespeare, the Digital Anthology repeatedly presents the non-Shakespearean plays at the center of their project as “other”. They assert that their site is valuable because it adds to our knowledge of Shakespeare. Their anticipated users don’t care about Sir John Suckling or even Christopher Marlowe. They highlight the value of their site’s “almost Shakespeare” apocryphal content. The Digital Anthology links to two Folger projects focusing entirely on Shakespeare: the Folger Digital Texts and Shakespeare Documented, both examples of “deep” digital humanities projects with a focus on Shakespeare.William Shakespeare’s plays are not part of EMED, for a simple reason: EMED was conceived as a way of showcasing all of the other playwrights writing in England’s early modern era.By bringing together their plays, however, EMED recreates the theater world that made possible Shakespeare’s career and influenced his work. Shakespeare knew many of the earlier plays as an actor or audience member. He also collaborated and competed with some of the playwrights. He directly influenced others. To read Shakespeare’s works, we recommend another Folger resource: the Folger Digital Texts.Some of the plays in EMED have historically been attributed to Shakespeare, including The London Prodigal, Sir John Oldcastle, and The Yorkshire Tragedy. These are currently regarded as “Shakespeare Apocrypha” and are no longer attributed to Shakespeare. For an explanation of how The London Prodigal fits (or does not fit) into Shakespeare’s corpus, see Peter Kirwan’s article in Shakespeare Documented. (Hyperlinks removed from original.)
4. Proliferating Shakespeares
Conflicts of Interest
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Just as Digital Humanities has a Shakespeare problem, Shakespeare studies has a Hamlet problem, although the prominence of Hamlet in Shakespeare studies, both digital and otherwise, is a topic for another essay. For evidence of Hamlet’s prominence, see Bernice W. Kliman et al.’s HamletWorks (Kliman et al. 2004) and Estill, Klyve, and Bridal Estill et al. (2015).
The Shakespeare Quartos Archive uses the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) for their XML (eXtensible Markup Language), which includes elements such as <handNote>, <stamp>, and <fw> (form work, for running heads, as an example). For more on their detailed encoding, see Desmet 2014.
Shakespeare His Contemporaries can be accessed on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine by inserting its former URL, http://shakespearehiscontemporaries.northwestern.edu/shc. The Shakespeare His Contemporaries XML—itself created by improving the encoding provided by the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership, or EEBO-TCP—is preserved in the Folger’s Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama (Brown et al. 2016).
See Greatley-Hirsch (2010) for an insightful and extended review of this project.
The St. John’s College Catalogue for 1947–1948 reveals that the King William Players produced The Duchess of Malfi in their 1946–47 season (St. John’s College 1948).
See also the discussion, cited by Rowe, on the open review for Andrew Murphy’s “Shakespeare Goes Digital” (Murphy 2010) about how Shakespeareans use digital texts.
See The Shakespeare User: Critical and Creative Appropriations in a Networked Culture, edited by Valerie M. Fazel and Louise Geddes (Fazel and Geddes 2017), particularly the chapter by Eric Johnson (2017).
For a thoughtful discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the Global Shakespeares project, as well as a consideration of the opportunities for and threats to the project, see Diana Henderson (2018). Henderson positions her in-depth analysis as “a case study that may assist others wrestling with the challenging, changing digital/Shakespeares studies landscape” (p. 70). For additional reflections on Global Shakespeares, including by its editors, see Henderson’s citations.
For a history of the World Shakespeare Bibliography and its move online, see (Estill 2014).
This figure was based on searches undertaken in January 2019. Choosing “book collection” and “book monograph” as document types in the World Shakespeare Bibliography yielded 28,706 entries, compared to 4416 results in the MLA International Bibliography, limited from 1960–2019 and by document type “book,” “translation,” and “edition,” searching with the keyword “Shakespeare.”
See, for instance, the proud claim in the introduction to Shakespeare and the Digital World that “this is a collection that does not come of out the vanguard of digital humanities specialists, but from the trial-and-error approaches of committed Shakespearean professionals working within an evolving field” (Carson and Kirwan 2014b, pp. 3–4). This claim suggests that a scholar cannot be both a digital humanities specialist and a Shakespearean professional.
© 2019 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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Estill, L. Digital Humanities’ Shakespeare Problem. Humanities 2019, 8, 45. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8010045
Estill L. Digital Humanities’ Shakespeare Problem. Humanities. 2019; 8(1):45. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8010045Chicago/Turabian Style
Estill, Laura. 2019. "Digital Humanities’ Shakespeare Problem" Humanities 8, no. 1: 45. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8010045