Digital Resources for the Teaching of Shakespeare
The web is full of amazing resources on Shakespeare, his plays, and his early modern world. It is so full, in fact, that it can be difficult to separate the good from the bad, the reliable from the unreliable. With that in mind, I offer here some of the most useful and interesting web resources available on Shakespeare.
Please use the comments field to suggest others, and let me know if you come across any broken links.
Much of of the exciting and up-to-date work on the web is to be found on Twitter these days. To be connected with the wider community of Shakespeare scholars and teachers you really must have a Twitter account (new to Twitter? Check out this quick tutorial on getting started). Here are some people/instititions to follow: Sarah Werner, Folger Shakespeare Library (@wynkenhimself), Grace Ioppolo (@ProfShakespeare), The Shakespeare Institute (@ShakesInstitute), Everyday Shakespeare (@EverydayShakes), and The Shakespeare Forum (@TheShakesForum). Most of the resources listed below also have a Twitter presence.
Virtual Rare Book Rooms and Etexts
Once available only to scholars, the original texts of Shakespeare and other books from his time are now freely accessible in several places on the internet.
The best of these is the British Library’s Shakespeare in Quarto site, where you can view all 21 of the library’s quarto editions in an easy-to-use interface. You can even compare two quartos side-by-side. This site is being slowly replaced by Quartos.org, which includes books from other institutions.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Imaging (SCETI) is the home to the Furness Shakespeare Collection, which includes digital images of Shakespeare’s First Folio, Holinshed’s Chronicles, and many other books of interest to our work.
The Rare Book Room is an amazing, one stop site that has most (if not all) of Shakespeare’s original texts, as well as scores of other original editions of authors from all periods of American and British literature.
Dulwich College in London holds one of the world’s most important archives of material relating to early modern theater. The founder of the college, Edward Alleyn, was one of the main movers-and-shakers in Shakespeare’s theatrical world. His father-in-law, Phillip Henslowe, kept a diary of his business transactions that remains one of the prized documents in the field. Over 2000 pages of the archive (letters, deeds, leases, playbills, and much more) are now available online.
Another category of online texts are etexts, or full-text databases that give you access to complete texts of works by Shakespeare and other writers. These differ from virtual rare book rooms in that you are seeing not facsimiles of original books, but texts that have been converted into html or other text formats. This offers the advantage of being able to search texts easily by keyword and copy and paste texts for essays or other uses. Three of these sites are of particular interest for those of us studying early modern British literature:
Folger Digital Texts includes the texts of all Shakespeare’s plays, either viewable online or for download. These texts do not include footnotes or textual glosses, but they are of higher quality than the mostly unedited Shakespeare texts available on the web.
Renascence Editions is a repository of texts assembled and maintained by the University of Oregon, organized by author’s last name.
The University of Victoria’s Internet Shakespeare Editions includes a search page for locating materials about specific plays. This is also a useful site for general information about Shakespeare.
The Luminarium has an excellent collection of sixteenth and seventeenth-century texts, as well as texs from other periods and traditions of literature.
Finally, MIT hosts The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which, as advertised, has all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. The textual quality of these plays is not as good as those from the Folger digital repository, but if you are working with a tool like Voyant to analyze text, this is the better site.
British History and Shakespeare’s Early Modern World
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust This is a great information source on Shakespeare’s life, the place he was born, and the early modern world. One of its best resources is the Finding Shakespeare page, which includes a series of excellent podcasts and images from the “Shakespeare in 100 Objects” radio series.
Tudor History from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) (In addition to some good historical overviews of topics ranging from the Reformation to witchcraft, the BBC includes some fun activities, like cracking a coded Elizabethan letter and a virtual tour of an early modern room.)
Video and Multimedia
YouTube is a cornucopia for Shakespeare film clips and performance resources. In addition to fun clips like The Beatles performing the rude mechanicals’ wall scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Peter Sellers, as Richard III, reciting “A Hard Day’s Night,” YouTube has several “channels” posted by Shakespeare acting companies and institutions such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, that offer clips, scene performances, and behind-the-scenes looks at producing Shakespeare’s plays.
Global Shakespeares explores Shakespeare as an international phenomenon and maintains a well-curated collection of videos from around the world.
The Folger Shakespeare Library’s LUNA collection includes hundreds of high-quality images from the library’s archives. Search for a character’s name, for instance, and you will find visual depictions of that character in performance and from illustrated editions of the plays.
The Royal Shakespeare Company (Information about its productions, including interviews and behind-the-scenes video, as well as general information about Shakespeare)
Sir Ian McKellan, the great Shakespearean actor who also happens to be Gandalf and Magneto, is featured in a wonderful multimedia site hosted by London’s National Theater.
Search Engines and other “Metadata” Sites
The internet and digital media have allowed the creation of unprecedented tools for studying and creating new knowledge about Shakespeare. The British Library’s English Short Title Catologue is an analog source (i.e., a book) that is fully searchable online. Want to know what other books were published in the same year as Hamlet? What the most popular books were in Shakespeare’s world? Which play of Shakespeare’s was published first? This resource will answer your questions.
The Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP), assembled by Alan Farmer and Zachary Lesser, has more specific information about playbooks, such as where the plays were first acted, which authors appear on their title pages (or if an author appears at all), and whether the plays are categorized as histories, comedies or tragedies. The database has a powerful search engine that allows you to customize your searches in almost infinite ways.
Lexicons of Early Modern English compiles several dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works that werepublished in Shakespeare’s time. In addition to the Oxford English Dictionary, this allows you to have a better understanding of what words meant in the time Shakespeare wrote them.
Finally, Open Source Shakespeare allows you to manipulate the Shakespearean text in many ways beyond basic reading. Interested in seeing how many times a word appears in a single play? In all of Shakespeare’s plays? OSS does it in a few clicks. You can also create a list of all speeches by a single character and compare two sonnets side-by-side.
There are a handful of excellent sites dedicated to teachers and pedagogy.
The best of these is the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Online Resources for Teachers (Specific lesson plans and teaching ideas from the world’s premier center for Shakespeare research and teaching.)
Shakespeare Uncovered is a companion website to the NEH-funded PBS program of the same title. It includes a host of resources for teaching Shakespeare (mainly at the secondary level).
Early Modern London Theatres (EMLoT) is a project put together by the Records of Early English Drama (REED) team at the University of Toronto in conjunction with King’s College, London. In their “Learning Zone” page they have assembled some good teaching resources to get students started on working with primary text documents from early modern theatrical culture.
The University of Pennsylvania’s English Renaissance in Context (ERIC) project (A resource that is both useful and beautiful to look at, focusing particularly on print history and the text of Shakespeare’s plays.)