Shakespeare Quartos Archive launched online

By Culture24 staff | 17 November 2009
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A web page with scanned image of an early printed book

(Above) A 1605 edition of Hamlet from the British Library

All 32 surviving quarto editions of Shakespeare's Hamlet have been collated in a free digital archive launched yesterday.

Shakespeare Quartos Archive allows scholars to compare early printed copies of the famous play in one place, without travelling between the world's great libraries.

The website's interactive format means high-quality page images can be annotated, searched and compared side by side for the first time.

The Transatlantic venture – funded by JISC in the UK and the National Endowment for the Humanities in the US – is being led by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

A close up on a digital image of a printed page

High-quality page reproductions allow users to search, annotate and compare different versions of the text

Richard Ovenden, of the Bodleian, said: "This digital resource will open new ways of accessing and researching the original texts of Hamlet.

"We are confident that (the archive) will become an indispensable online resource for the worldwide community of scholars, teachers and students with an interest in Shakespeare."

Controversially, several versions of Hamlet exist. These include the first folio, a first quarto (Q1) which puts the famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy in a different scene, and a second quarto (Q2) which is almost twice the length.

But with no written manuscripts, early printed editions are the best records we have of what Shakespeare actually wrote. Archive organisers aim to collect all 75 pre-1642 editions of his plays.

Shakespeare Quartos Archive can be found online

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