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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Digital Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1266  Tuesday, 15 June 2004

From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Jun 2004 16:15:29 +0100
Subject: 15.1255 Shaksper - Doubt me not
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1255 Shaksper - Doubt me not

Graham Hall asks "Do we?" in response to Louis Thompson's assertion that
"we all applaud the new digital Shakespeare".

Hall might be implying that, far from being good or neutral, a digital
Shakespeare is positively a bad thing. If so, or if anyone agrees with
that position and wants to debate it, I'd take the opposite line and
assert that it's positively a good thing.

Those wanting to engage in such a debate might be interested in an essay
in the current issue of the Times Literary Supplement (11 June, No.
5280) called "PG tips" by Paul Duguid. The 'PG' referred to is 'Project
Gutenberg', which provides free 'plain vanilla' (that is, untagged)
etexts of many printed books, with an emphasis on the literary. (The
title of the essay is also a pun on the name of a popular tea sold in
Britain and elsewhere.)

Duguid points out the flaws in the PG version of Laurence Sterne's
_Tristram Shandy_ and worries that the new medium might undo "a century
of worthwhile editorial work". I'd say that _Tristram Shandy_ is an
exceptional case that particularly suits Duguid's argument since, as he
amply demonstrates, it's intensely concerned with its own medium of
dissemination. Most books aren't so self-referential and their digital
surrogates, losing nothing in the conversion, are considerably more
useful than the print versions. This is especially true of Shakespeare's
plays.  These are, of course, self-referential, but refer to themselves
as performances not books.

Incidentally, this final point provides, to those who want it, a
potential line of argument against Lukas Erne's claim that Shakespeare
looked to books as a medium of dissemination for his plays. Were that
so, we should expect to find evidence for it in the self-referentially
of the plays.

In fact, the first play ever to use the word 'title-page' in its
dialogue was the Wilkins and Shakespeare collaboration _Pericles_,
which, in the form of the 1609 quarto printed by William White for Henry
Gosson, was also the first title-page to call its dramatic contents a
'play'.* Anyone who wishes to challenge these assertions would be well
advised to consult the records of the electronic Short Title Catalogue
and the etexts of Chadwyck-Healey's Literature Online database, and not
to try doing the task using their paper equivalents unless they have
many years to spare on the work.

Q.E.D.

Gabriel Egan

* At least, it was the first since the Tudor interludes.

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