Internet Shakespeare Editions, A Shakespeare Suite CD-Rom (from £30.00/ US $46.80: see http://www.cict.co.uk/software for licensing details).

Matthew Steggle
Sheffield Hallam University

Steggle, Matthew. "Review of Internet Shakespeare Editions, A Shakespeare Suite CD-Rom." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.2 (September, 2003): 8.1-10 <URL:

  1. A Shakespeare Suite offers three separate tools for learning and teaching about Shakespeare, and through his works, early modern drama more widely: Shakespeare's Life and Times, which is in effect the hypertext equivalent of a Companion to Shakespeare Studies; Scenario, a tool enabling students to "direct" virtual stagings of Shakespeare plays; and Textual Resources, which as the name suggests offers various tools enabling readers to experiment with etexts of Shakespeare. It has been developed by Michael Best's Internet Shakespeare Editions project <http://web.uvic.ca/shakespeare/>, a distinguished endeavour which must be familiar by now to almost anyone with an interest in the early modern and access to an internet-enabled computer.

  2. The CD loads without difficulty, and the reader (for the continuing want of a better word) is presented with a menu offering the three alternatives of which the package is made up. Two of them, Shakespeare's Life and Times and Textual Resources, run within a browser window, with all the attendant advantages of working within a familiar interface. The third, Scenario, requires installation, but the instructions are more than adequate and in practice for me "installation" meant basically clicking the button marked "install".

  3. Shakespeare's Life and Times is an impressive undertaking. It runs within a browser window, numerous hyperlinks make it easy for the curious reader to range around from topic to topic as the fancy takes them, and there is intelligent use of music and video files. The video files are currently limited, as far as I could tell, to rather gorgeous extracts from a performance of Jonson's Oberon, but they provide a taste of things to come if (and when) there is a second edition of the CD. The articles as a whole are written at a fairly simple level -- a random sampling through might lead you to 250 words on alchemy, a diagram of the water closet, or a useful explanation of the authorship question. External hotlinks guide the reader seamlessly onto the internet in search of more information.

  4. Although the extensive reference material includes dating information on all Shakespeare plays, seventeen Shakespeare texts are covered in greater depth and from several angles. For the record, these are:

    The Taming of the Shrew
    A Midsummer Night's Dream
    Romeo and Juliet
    The Merchant of Venice
    Henry IV, Part One
    Henry V
    Much Ado About Nothing
    As You Like It

    Julius Caesar
    Twelfth Night
    Measure for Measure
    King Lear
    The Winter's Tale
    The Tempest

    The greater depth includes short, multi-sectional introductions sprinkled with links that take you back into the reference material. Old- and modern-spelling texts of the plays are also linked in, but this is done by the online site.

  5. My only reservation about this excellent package relates to an occasional lack of full referencing. For instance, browsing around the background information on Shakespeare's London took me to a page on "various trades", containing two images of Renaissance tradespeople, one sourced as far as the library it came from, the other not sourced at all that I could see. It also contained a Bartholomew Fair ballad, both its text, and an audio file of it being performed: but there was no information that I could get at about the source of the words (or the music), or the performer. There is, indeed, a bibliography for the City Life section as a whole, consisting of forty-two book length texts from Ian Archer to Susan Zimmerman: but since the compilers have done the hard work of gathering the information, I find it frustrating that this ballad was not referenced more specifically. Admittedly, these may be the concerns of a Shakespeare specialist. But undergraduates, too, would (or should) be a little concerned about the exact provenance of the material that they quote, and I think they might find it frustrating as well.

  6. In another part of the forest is the Textual Resources section of the suite. It contains modern-spelling texts of all Shakespeare's plays. Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear are, in addition, the subject of special treatment because of their textual problems. For each of these, we get page-by-page images of the variant early texts, accompanied by page-by-page transcriptions of those images. The idea, clearly, is to make it easy for students to see the first-hand evidence of textual problems for themselves. A "Suggestions for teachers" page does just what you might expect. I'd certainly find this useful for teaching purposes. For sixteen of the plays (the favoured seventeen from earlier, with the exception of Measure for Measure) the Textual Resources section also includes individually compiled concordances to each of the individual plays. The feature is sensible and well-worked, implemented inside three interconnecting browser windows, although its focus on individual plays, rather than the whole canon, limits its flexibility a little.

  7. Scenario is a "virtual theatre". The program uses a background representing the stage of the Globe, complete with pillars and gallery. On top of this, it is possible to superimpose actors, in the form of two-dimensional figures each available in a variety of poses, and also props, which themselves can be put on in various configurations. There are some neat touches - characters and props shrink as they move upstage, and are concealed behind the pillars when appropriate. Working on a single frame, the effect is strangely like high-tech fuzzy felt.

  8. On the other hand, what this package allows you to do is to create a series of "frames", each of which follows on from the previous one, and each of which can be enriched with a sound effect if appropriate. Thus, it is possible to click through the frames you have created to demonstrate one possibility for the blocking of a scene.

  9. Scenario's apparent simplicity is actually quite deceptive, since given sufficient patience, it is possible to build a long run of frames that demonstrates a detailed scheme -- within the program's self-imposed limits and stylized representation -- for the blocking of a particular scene. At the moment, it contains a limited number of characters and props, and enforces certain assumptions about (say) the costuming, or the exact visible appearance of Macbeth's line of kings. However, these could easily be addressed by a larger library of props and characters, and indeed the program might be almost infinitely extensible to include different stages and effects. I can see it being of interest for schoolteachers looking to get their students to think about theatrical blocking, perhaps as a precursor to them acting out blocking that they have designed on the screen. Scenario is certainly a work in progress at the moment, but it holds out some interesting possibilities.

  10. All in all, then, A Shakespeare Suite is certainly likely to be of great interest to schoolteachers with decent access to IT in the classroom. It should also be of interest to university teachers of Shakespeare: partly for what it contains, but more pertinently for what its technology promises for the future of Shakespeare teaching at all levels.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).