The Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM: Texts and Sources for Shakespeare Study. Jonathan Bate, consultant ed. Version 1.0. Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson [Arden Shakespeare], 1997. ISBN 0-17-443470-7. Compact Disk [for Windows].
R.G. Siemens
University of Alberta

Siemens, R.G. "Review of The Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM: Texts and Sources for Shakespeare Study." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.2 (September, 1998): 28.1-10 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-2/rev_siem.html>.

  1. In reference to what was, in 1996, the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM's promise to incorporate the texts of the Arden Shakespeare with facsimile images and a number of scholarly resources, Martin Spevack notes that

      It is unlikely that these elements -- each with its own set of lemmata and wordforms, differing lineation conventions, and distinctive scholarly perspective -- can be connected. That would require an engineering feat beyond the capacity of even all the king's hackers and all the king's netizens. (82-3)

    Responding to this statement, Nicholas Kind observes that those who produced the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM have "managed to achieve the engineering feat of which Spevack speaks and produce an unprecedented . . . user-friendly resource for research and teaching" ("A Letter in Reply" 219). So they have, to a large degree. The Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM is a resource that combines a great deal of valuable information in a manner that allows straightforward retrieval and use; as such, it represents a solid accomplishment.

    Figure 1: Typical View [select image]
  2. The CD has been available for the better part of the current year, and has over the summer received a good deal of attention -- much of it not overwhelmingly positive (see, for example, Chothia and Pigman) -- though one clearly cannot overlook what it does well.   It is available for both the Macintosh operating system and Windows, though only the Windows version is here evaluated.  Aimed primarily at an audience interested in using it for teaching/learning and convenient reference, the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM combines the full text of those plays and poems included in last complete series of the Arden Shakespeare (the second series) with their introduction, commentary, textual notes, and so forth. Figure 1 shows a typical on-screen view of a play, in this case the beginning of King Lear, with its display of text, commentary and variants; Figure 2 offers a view of the introduction of the same. Facsimile reproductions of early editions of each work (folio and quarto texts, where possible, for most plays) are included; Figure 3 displays an instance in which having such evidence immediately at hand can be useful: the deposition scene of Richard II (4.1.154-318) comparing the evidence of the first quarto against that of the first folio. In addition, one will find included with, and incorporated into, the Arden materials several helpful scholarly works: Bullough's Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Bevington's Shakespeare bibliography, Abbott's A Shakespearean Grammar, Onions and Eagleson's A Shakespeare Glossary, and Partridge's Shakespeare's Bawdy. Figure 4 shows a parallel view of A Midsummer Night's Dream's text of "Pyramus and Thisbe" and one of its sources, from Bullough, in Ovid's Metamorphoses.

    Figure 2: Introduction [select image]
  3. The interface is quite useable, allowing the display of a number of materials on-screen, in various configurations (as can be seen somewhat in the figures), synchronously scrolling when appropriate and, ultimately, facilitating a good interaction with the materials that the CD includes. That said, one becomes quickly aware that the materials native to the source Arden editions are often more straightforwardly associated by self-referential hypertextual links than links to the scholarly works that are intended to gloss and augment those materials. Cross-references within the canon of Shakespeare's works, for example, as presented in the commentary can be followed by the click of a mouse. But those wishing to use Abbott, Onions and Eagleson, or Partridge must invoke a menu or button command for access and, then, must search for the specific information needed; the hypertextual association in these references to the text of the editions, though, is more as might be expected.[1] Ideally, of course, all related materials should be associated, seamlessly, in both directions by hypertextual links; ideal, as well, is something that is included: the ability to add annotations and hypertextual associations which, when used in a network environment, can become part of the reading experience of all networked users.

    Figure 3: Facsimiles [select image]
  4. As well, the CD allows text searches, facilitated by the DynaText software that lies beneath the user interface. Simple searches -- word matches -- can be carried out by entering a word or words in the search area at the bottom of the screen; to move among those instances that match search criteria, one uses buttons that intuitively suggest forward or backward progression. More complex searching -- a word or words within specific types of text (stage directions, original or emended editorially, speaker, prose/verse/song, and so forth) and within a single play -- is available via a separate dialogue box; while it may inhibit those familiar with the intricacies of both the markup and query language pertinent to the materials on the CD, this interface is nevertheless quite useful for others and, moreover, allows those for whom markup and query languages are foreign to obtain valuable results. Other valuable features include the facility to print select materials, facsimiles among them, to cut-and-paste materials from the CD into word-processing documents, and to generate part books.

    Figure 4: Sources [select image]
  5. Its implementation, in short, is worth positive remark. To this, one further comment is worth adding. The package installed quite easily on my test system (an IBM-compatible Pentium 150 system, running Windows '95), and also uninstalled with similar ease. The installation program, though, does not check if there is enough space on one's hard drive for the option chosen -- complete (over 600 megabytes) or browser alone (10 megabytes); it might do so, especially given the size of the full installation, which is the default selection. Once installed, during my testing I repeatedly came across a fatal system error while browsing the "Sources" section of the introduction to King Lear;[2] thinking that re-installing the program might correct this, I proceeded to uninstall and re-install the software, but the error recurred.

  6. Turning to issues of content, there is much also that can be said, though this runs counter to the nature of remarks concerning implementation. Perhaps the best that can be said here is that the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM, because of its contents and their arrangement, provides its users the opportunity for a relatively sophisticated engagement of the materials it contains; moreover, it does so without the "dumbing down" of complex materials and their relations that one can find in much lesser, but similar, products.

  7. Despite its positive features, a number of very serious and valid objections to this resource in its current state have been raised, and those responsible for its development and marketing have had to come to its defence quite frequently of late; see, for example, pieces by Kind ("Arden"), Kind and Bate, and Scott. An early review found that "the project . . . is deeply flawed by the decision to use as the base text the Arden 2, the outdated second series" (Chothia). Such a response is valid, in consideration of the fact that much of the text-related material -- critical introductions and the like -- that lie at the core of this electronic edition are several decades old (as is Bevington's bibliography, though still useful), and thus are not at all conversant with more recent developments in our critical understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare; moreover, a good number of editions in the Arden third series are already available, but have escaped inclusion into the CD. A more recent evaluation of the CD notes that there are some difficulties inherent in the Arden implementation that make the query language inefficient; as well, it is noted that the facsimiles of early editions, useful as their presence is, are not available with transcriptions, thus rendering them unsearchable (Pigman). Again, pertinent and legitimate criticism which cannot be ignored.[3]

  8. The Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM is a well-laid out package, and offers much to the student encountering Shakespeare critically. As I have argued elsewhere,[4] hypertextual editions such as the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM have a distinct strength in what they make immediately available to the reader (in this case, chiefly intended to be the student), allowing and encouraging the use of a number of critical and scholarly resources because of their seamless integration with the literary edition. The type of interaction allowed by this edition -- with background and source materials, as well as facsimiles and other scholarly resources (even dated as they may be in this current release, version 1.0) -- has the potential to help a student reader achieve a more powerful grasp of the material; hence, the edition provides a distinct pedagogical advantage.

  9. In reflecting upon the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM, and in addition to presenting its positive features and some shortcomings, one must also keep in mind that it was originally conceived of some three years ago -- a lifetime, considering the development of like computing resources since then; thus, the CD is in many ways a pioneering effort. At an original list price of 2,500 / $3,995 US, reduced recently to 1,250 / $1,995 US,[5] the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM is dear, indeed; but, in four months of using it -- while at the time teaching a Shakespeare survey -- I have to say that I found it quite useful, in spite of its content-oriented shortcomings.

  10. Some may feel that the positive features of the CD as it now stands warrants its purchase and use. Others will naturally and rightfully feel it best to wait until the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM incorporates content that more obviously addresses the state of Shakespeare studies as it exists today. Others, yet, may note that, unlike the medium of print, the electronic medium allows for updates and 'patches' -- if not by re-issuing the CD (a costly proposition, to be certain), then by making the information available to its registered users via Arden's site on the internet; this last group, too, will likely wait.

    Postscript: After completion of this review, an announcement was made for the Arden Shakespeare, 3rd Series Electronic Partwork, to be launched in 1999.  This will see the addition of the materials present in the third series texts, and a number of new and useful features, to the Arden Shakespeare's electronic capabilities.


1. Consider, for example, the word "abhor" from Othello (4.2.164). While glossed adequately in the commentary, to seek further input from Onions and Eagleson, one must select that resource, and then use the scroll bar to find "abhor" from the full list. To return, however, one need only select the hypertextual link to the line reference.

2. This error appeared, specifically, during discussion of Shakespeare's indebtedness to Holinshed in the "Sources" section of the introduction to King Lear; each time I encountered it, I was forced to exit and re-launch the program. The error message read "Unhandled Exception: String reference out of range. OK to resume?" giving the option of "Yes" or "No." Choosing to resume by selecting "Yes," however, only returned the same error message.

3. Convincing responses to such claims have focussed on pragmatics, as they refer to the developers, and issues of audience. In addition to the fact that, while dated, there is still a good amount of useful information in the Arden 2 texts, Kind and Bate note (and this is repeated by Kind in his letter to the Times Literary Supplement) that the project was conceived of in 1995 -- a time when the Arden 3 series had hardly started -- and took three years to realise; to incorporate a mix of Arden 2 and 3 texts at the time, or to update the CD as each third series text became available, would be cost-prohibitive. Kind also notes ("Arden") that the intended audience for this CD is the student, and not the expert Shakespearean who is conversant with the range of pertinent contemporary scholarly issues and, also, with the intricacies of search languages and textual encoding.

4. See Siemens (15).

5. The greater price refers to the CD with a 1-10 concurrent user network licence; the lesser price, reduced in response to comments about the affordability of the product, is for the CD with a 1-4 concurrent user network licence.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.

1998-, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).

(LH, RGS, 17 September 1998)