The Shepheardes Calender Hypermedia Edition
John Tolva
Washington University, St. Louis

Tolva, John. "The Spenser Web: The Shepheardes Calender Hypermedia Edition." Early Modern Literary Studies 1.2 (1995): 14.1-10 <URL:



  1. The prototype of the Spenser Web (all prefatory material and Januarye) grew out of a graduate seminar in the "cultural poetics" of book creation and dissemination in Renaissance England. As a student in the class, I first conceived the project as the logical end of a paper that discussed the non-linearity of the multi-generic poem. Though only a dim notion at the time of writing the paper, a hypertext edition of The Shepheardes Calender slowly came into being, in part to test my thesis, in part as an experiment in creating a kind of super-edition unavailable (indeed unattainable) in print, and in part as a self-conscious emulation of two very different hypermedia editions of literary works: Jerome McGann's Rossetti Archive and George Landow's and Jon Lanestedt's In Memoriam Web. Together, the current state of editorial theory, advances in text-based computing, a growing knowledge of the aesthetics, economics, and social history of book culture, and the freshness of contextualizing an important literary work in a totally new way provided the impetus for the project.

  2. This electronic edition contains three different types of scholarly edition--annotated, facsimile, and variorum--in one comprehensively cross-indexed, computerized version. We have chosen Edmund Spenser's first major publication, The Shepheardes Calender (1579) as the text for this project. Using hyperlinked images and text and the telematic network known as the World Wide Web we have constructed a prototype (approximately five percent of the total poem) for the edition. The prototype combines a scanned facsimile reproduction of the 1579 quarto and a machine-readable text that is extensively annotated and which contains the textual variants of the poem's entire history in print. By combining visual and textual elements in a linked matrix rather than as a bound book of fixed format, we hope to avoid one limitation inherent to traditional textual and literary scholarship, namely the simple fact that it has traditionally functioned, as McGann observes, at the same level as the material to be studied. The goal of the Spenser hypertext project is to eliminate the difficulty of using critical, facsimile, and variorum editions in conjunction with one another and to simplify access to such individual features as footnotes, indices, and concordances.

  3. The decision to begin with The Shepheardes Calender was prompted not only by the fact that Spenser's place in the English literary canon has grown more important in the last thirty years. More important, The Shepheardes Calender was, in a non-trivial sense, eminently "hypertextual" and a precursor of contemporary multimedia. The book is an amalgam: it conjoins woodcuts and ornamental typography with such formal literary genres as eclogue, emblem and envoy and with such "informal" discursive forms as the prefatory epistle and the philological gloss (see, for example, Ruth Samson Luborsky's "The Illustrations to The Shepheardes Calender, II," Spenser Studies 9 [1988]: 249-53). The work is a self-conscious and witty amalgam, an attempt to use the conventional bibliographic resources of illustration and gloss to transform a new work by a relatively unknown poet into something that looks like a "classic." Unlike many text-based, generically singular works, The Shepheardes Calender responds particularly well to exploration in a hypermedia environment. The prefatory General Argument points out that the poem, in addition to its de facto compartmentalization into months, "may be well devided into three formes or ranckes . . . Plaintive, Moral and Satyrical"; yet this theorizing of genre is incomprehensible until the book is read--it thus invites skipping forward even as it solicits recursive attention as one proceeds through the book. The glosses located at the ends of individual poems similarly invite a non-linear use of the book that is in many ways a legacy of those almanacs to which the title of Spenser's book alludes. This disruption of linear reading--the enforced shuttling between kinds of reading--at once exploited the nature of the typographic codex and enforced an appreciative sense of its interestingly resistant material form. The hypermedia edition should assist the scholar in reducing that resistance without, of course, eliminating it: our purpose is to facilitate a pattern of reading that the text itself solicits.


  4. The edition may be thought of as four texts running parallel to one another: a series of graphical images composing the facsimile arranged as pages to correspond to the other texts, a "clean" text without any markup, an extensively annotated, hypertextual duplicate of this text, and, last, another hypertextual markup of the regular text containing the textual variants.

  5. The first version (edited, clean) derives from the following sources:
    • the e-text, taken from the Oxford Text Archive, was originally entered from the Nimmo Q1 facsimile held at the British museum
    • at the time of its entry, this text was checked against the Variorum and the 1935 Oxford (Smith and De Selincourt) edition of Spenser's poetry
    • we have checked and corrected this text against the Yale edition (itself based on the Huntington Q1);
    • all discrepancies have been cross-checked with the Scolar facsimile (Bodleian Q1) and the Variorum

  6. During the editing we have attempted to provide a diplomatic transcript. In general we will follow the orthographic decisions made by the editors of the Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, though we will not convert u to v, vv to w, and i to j. The edited text will not be modernized in any way, save typographically. It will be a simple transcription of the facsimile that runs parallel to it. Obvious errors in the Q1 have been corrected, however; even these emendations may be retrieved, if desired, from the Variorum edition, running parallel. The six extant copies of Q1 have been collated by the editors of the Variorum Works of Edmund Spenser and only one discrepancy has been found, so no explicit distinction need be made between the various copies of the first edition.

  7. For the prototype, the facsimile derives from the photostat reproduction of the poem published by the Spenser Society. We hope to photograph and digitize the Q1 edition held by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California; permission for such reproduction has been granted. (The prototype currently reproduces the Spenser Society facsimile.) The annotated version will derive from one of two sources. I have submitted a request to the editors of the Yale edition of the shorter poems of Spenser for use of their annotations. All variants are taken from the Variorum Spenser, published in 1943. (At a much later date it may be appropriate to double-check the textual variants recorded in the Variorum, but such a task is not to be part of the current project.) Editions of The Shepheardes Calender published after 1943 are currently being studied and the lists of variants accordingly updated.

  8. As Spenser's first major work, the Calender can serve nicely as the foundation for the ultimate goal of providing a full archive, a computerized "complete works" for the poet. Though the current project only encompasses the creation of a hypertext edition for the single book, the intention is to expand the edition, using it as a basis from which to create a hypertextual corpus of Spenser's works and, perhaps, other Renaissance texts, especially those that incorporate visual elements. In the process and with help I hope to develop some new editorial tools, software modules for manipulating facsimile images. One such tool, a module to permit digital collation of many, sometime minutely different, editions of the same work should be of use to bibliographers of all periods. (A stroboscopic mechanism was developed in the 1950's to accomplish this task, but it was large, expensive, noisy and it needed to be monitored by a vigilant operator. The hope is to be able to improve upon the Hinman collator by using today's computer technology and by drawing on systems of comparative visual analysis analogous to those devised for evaluation of satellite data.)

  9. A grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding of the completion of the project is pending, though work continues apace in the meanwhile.

    Project Participants

    • Editor: John Tolva, English Department, Washington University, St. Louis.
    • Advisory Editor: Joseph Loewenstein, Washington University, St. Louis.

    Project Address:
    Department of English
    Washington University
    Campus Box 1122
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, Missouri. USA. 63130-4899
    (314) 935-5190

[http://asgard.humn.arts.ualberta.ca/emls/EMLS footer.html]

(RGS, rev. 14 February 1998)