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Open Source Shakespeare

The Editions

The editions are released as open source under the GNU Free Documentation License (license and usage details). They are the editions used on this website as well as in the Shakespeare apps for Apple and Android. They are based on a variety of text sources to create the best editions possible for all works attributed to William Shakespeare in part or whole. Philosophically, the editions are meant to strike a balance between the author's original intent and modernization (and therefore improved approachability by today's audiences). 

Shakespeare's original works are in the Public Domain, which means they can be freely used, altered, distributed and sold in that original form. But most versions of his works have been edited to create proprietary editions, which are then sold by publishers such as Arden, Riverside, Folger and others. Since the editions are released under an open source license, unlike these editions, anyone can freely use them. There is currently no other open source editions available of Shakespeare's works (see this blog post on why that's true).

Why XML?

The editions are in XML format, which stands for eXtensible Markup Language. It's a highly flexible, cross-platform text format that allows data to be easily manipulated in many ways, including customizing text formatting, converting to HTML, and creating complex visualizations. With XML, we can define the structure to match the structure of the plays and embed additional information into the file (e.g. line counts or create a list of scenes any given character is in). XML files are purely content in nature and contain no formatting or styling. Here's an example from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1:

<speaker long="Barnardo">BAR.</speaker>
<line globalnumber="10" number="10" form="verse" offset="0">Have you had quiet guard?</line>
<speaker long="Francisco">FRAN.</speaker>
<line globalnumber="11" number="10" form="verse" offset="5">Not a mouse stirring.</line>

The XML gives the play structure, line numbering, indentation, short/full character names, and a lot more. The XML files are available in two ways:

We welcome suggestions and contributions to improve the editions. There's a section of our discussion forum dedicated to discussing the various editions of Shakespeare's works. Please post your ideas and feedback there.

The First Folio in XML

Back in April 2012 to commemorate Shakespeare's birthday, we announced the release of the First Folio edition in XML as open source. This was a monumental undertaking for the most important Shakespearean book ever. We wanted to do it justice so we took a similar approach Charlton Hinman took in creating a "best of" edition of all the First Folio editions available (including those that didn't exist when Hinman wrote his book). We wanted to maintain the original spelling and the ability to create both an exact reproduction of the print original and a reflowed digital edition from the same source. That also required a font that supported the original characters so we chose the Fell Types ( View First Folio XMLs on GitHub.

What's Next?

Our next plan is to convert more source material from Shakespeare's quartos and octavos to XML. The text sources that are listed here with green checkmarks are the first priority:

View text sources

Once those editions are converted to XML, we will be able to create "complete" editions of each play—a single file that contains all editions of that play in one. This is greatly helpful for comparing and contrasting the editions.

Can you help us meet this goal of making great, open source editions of all of Shakespeare's works for everyone to enjoy? Get it touch via our contact form or the discussion forum.


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