New Oxford Shakespeare

6 volumes: Original spelling, modern spelling, alternative versions, an authorship companion

The New Oxford Shakespeare is Oxford University Press's first new complete works edition since the groundbreaking 1986-87 edition edited by Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett, and William Montgomery. Four volumes have been published so far:

1) The Complete Works: Modern Critical Edition (in modern spelling)

2) The Complete Works: Critical Reference Edition volume 1 (in original spelling)

3) The Complete Works: Critical Reference Edition volume 2 (in original spelling)

4) The New Oxford Shakespeare Authorship Companion

So, what is left to do?

For many of Shakespeare's works there are multiple early editions that compete for our attention and it is not clear that any one is better than all the others. There exist what we call 'alternative' versions of many of the plays and poems, and rather than just ignore these or conflate them with the editions that usually form the basis of modern editions, the New Oxford Shakespeare will publish two additional volumes that present them:

5) The Complete Alternative Versions: Modern Critical Edition (in modern spelling)

6) The Complete Alternative Versions: Critical Reference Edition (in original spelling)

These last two volumes of the New Oxford Shakespeare will appear in 2022. Where there are multiple early editions of a Shakespeare work with equal claim to our attention, the Complete Works volumes version of that work was based on the longest of the early editions. Thus, for example, the Complete Works version of King Lear was based on the 1608 quarto of the play, which is a couple of hundred lines longer than the version that appeared in the 1623 Folio collection of Shakespeare's plays. In the Complete Alternative Versions volumes, the Folio edition of King Lear will take its place alongside the first quarto (1603) and Folio versions of Hamlet, the first quarto of Othello (1622), and the 1590s versions of the plays that are better known by the titles given them by the 1623 Folio: Henry VI Part Two and Henry VI Part Three.

In all, 17 plays for which the Complete Works chose one early version will be represented in the Complete Alternative Versions by a different early version so that readers can see just how varied, one from another, the early versions of Shakespeare's works really are. The 'alternative' versions of Shakespeare's works have never before taken their proper place in his canon by being edited within a scholarly Complete Works edition from a major academic publisher. The New Oxford Shakespeare is the first edition to treat these 'alternative' versions as collateral texts that are not only viable dramatic constructions in their own right but also give us fresh insight into how Shakespeare's plays came into being and his working relationships with the actors, co-authors, scribes, and printers that made up the collective team whose labours gave us the Shakespeare we know. That is, the 'alternative' versions complete the new picture of Shakespeare's professional career and achievement that is presented by the New Oxford Shakespeare.

As with the Complete Works volumes, each play will be presented in two forms. First to be created is an original spelling edition (the Critical Reference Edition), with copious textual notes describing the decisions the editor has made about correcting the inevitable errors of wording and lineation found in the early editions. Then the editor modernizes the spelling (to create the Modern Critical Edition), adding commentary notes explaining the words whose meanings are not obvious to modern readers and providing marginal performance notes indicating various options that the script offers to those presenting the play on stage or on the screen to modern audiences.


What's happening at De Montfort?

De Montfort University has been closely involved in the creation of the New Oxford Shakespeare, providing funding to match that offered by the Leverhulme Trust to enable a specialist in authorship attribution, Dr Brett Greatley-Hirsch, to work on the texts of the plays. De Montfort University paid for Keegan Cooper to be hired to assist in the final proof-reading of the Complete Works volumes, and most significantly of all it has given its Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Gabriel Egan, time away from other duties to work as a General Editor on the New Oxford Shakespeare.

Paul Brown This year, De Montfort University has been enabled by a generous grant from the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) to hire Dr Paul Brown to work as the "New Oxford Shakespeare MHRA Research Associate" on the project, to assist the completion of the Complete Alternative Versions. Dr Brown is doing this by applying his expertise on Shakespearian theatre history and texts to the creation of digital resources that enable the editors to answer questions such as "what are the relative sizes the canons of all the authors active in the 1590s?" or "what is the significance of this phrase appearing in these five plays and can we find it anywhere else?"

Kyonnah Price De Montfort University employs a freelance expert in eXtensible Markup Language (XML) called Kyonnah Price who oversees the creation of base transcriptions used in the Complete Alternative Versions volumes of the New Oxford Shakespeare. Kyonnah previously worked on the creation of XML base transcriptions for the project 'Shakespeare's Early Editions' at De Montfort University, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Our interns in their own words

De Montfort University currently employs two paid interns (we call them Frontrunners), Jessica Samuel and Carys Hudson, to provide further support the project, which includes the preparation in digital form of key reference materials, such as tables of plays' authors, titles, dates, genres, lengths, casting requirements, and use of properties, and the creation in XML of raw transcriptions of early plays that will be used as the base texts in the final published volumes. In the section below, Jessica and Carys describe what they are doing. Over the summer of 2019, De Montfort University will be hiring two more paid interns to continue this essential work from October 2019 to April 2020.

Jess Samuel Jess Samuel In my work on the New Oxford Shakespeare Frontrunner post, I have primarily been working on the XML encoding of Shakespeare's 1598 third quarto edition of the history play Richard II. My role began with the initial markup of the basic 'skeleton' of the play, dividing the transcript in to acts, then in to scenes, and then in to individual speeches and stage directions. This act of dividing is achieved through separating the block of text with 'tags' which denote individual characters, and separating speeches from basic structural features (acts, scenes, and stage directions) and prose from verse. In the case of Richard II, there is (unusually and somewhat mercifully) no prose. Therefore, I moved on to checking my XML document against a facsimile of the 1598 third-quarto edition of Richard II in order to make any tweaks to spellings, punctuation and other stylistic variations, so that my document matched up to the facsimile. The result is a fully XML-encoded version of the 1598 third-quarto of Richard II.

This simple XML will then go on to have a great deal more work done on it by those involved in the New Oxford Shakespeare project before it is published. Patterns found in both the linguistics and stylistics of scripts can help modern researchers to identify the trademarks of particular authors, and in turn, recognise when a text has multiple influences. Naturally, individual writers favour certain lexical choices and phraseology, which infuses their work with a certain originality--intrigue arises where overlaps or anomalies present themselves. For instance, such work has uncovered the extent of Christopher Marlowe's hand in Shakespeare's first tetralogy: he co-authored all three of the Henry VI history plays. Such a revelation naturally leads one to wonder how much canonical drama, usually attributed to a sole author, was in fact produced collaboratively. My part in this project is to provide the XML-encoded early editions of such drama for the software that used to explore such questions to work on.

In addition to the XML work on Shakespearean texts, there is a great deal of research being done on a broad range of early modern drama at De Montfort University. Again, this is concerned with identifying features of texts that can help us attribute them to certain authors. Alongside the XML, I also work on compiling databases of British drama. Martin Wiggins's new Catalogue has collated vast quantities of new evidence about plays from the years 1533-1642. From this and other sources I create spreadsheets that enable the editors of the New Oxford Shakespeare project to quickly find answers to the questions that they need answered as they work on their texts. Again, the work I do here is only the first step of a prolonged process in which the aforementioned factors are compared in order to glean insight into the practical processes, including authorial collaboration, that led to the flourishing of early modern drama that we still enjoy today.

Carys Hudson Cary Hudson . . .

Our funders

DMU                    MHRA                    Leverhulme