INTRODUCTION TO THE PROJECT
For my final project, I am primarily interested in exploring the relation between speech and writing in the context of William Shakespeare’s work. I chose to digitize a 1685 Shakespeare Fourth Folio using SoundciteJS, a Knight Lab tool, to complicate the text-speech interplay of the viewer’s experience. While reading the digitized text from folio pages, viewers are also able to listen to live performances of the same line of dialogue. However, the language of the audio clips and the written language may not correlate perfectly with one another, as various versions of the same Shakespeare play are accepted as the “original.”
THE VIEWER OF THE SITE
I specifically chose to refer to the audience or reader of my digitization as a viewer. While I initially began called them “readers” in earlier drafts of this text, the term did not sit right with me because “reader” connotes an individual interacting with writing only, and did not seem applicable to the activity of experiencing content through both text and audio. I also considered referring to the viewer as an audience member — in reference to the audio clips of Shakespeare performances I embedded in the project — but felt that the term “audience” implies a more passive experience where the audience member reacts passively in response to content presented to them, instead of having the freedom to explore and interact with content at their own pace. I finally settled on the term “viewers.” This word is used in the context of the Internet to describe consumers of online content such as YouTube videos, social media posts, and websites. It suggests that individuals are not only watching digital content; they are also interacting with it, whether through comments, feedback in the form of a “like” or “reaction” on Facebook, or independent navigation through a site. I was drawn to such a portrayal of a “viewer” as an active participant engaging with content, and although the root of the word only refers to the sense of sight, I believe that its use on the Internet frames the “viewing” experience as one which is audiovisual and interactive.
ORIGINALITY AND AUTHENTICITY IN SHAKESPEARE REPRODUCTIONS
Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass’s article “The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text” acts as the main source of inspiration for this digitization. At its core, my final project questions the idea of originality and authenticity in both Shakespearean facsimiles and folios. The Shakespeare folios themselves cannot be viewed as “original” or “authentic” Shakespeare, as there are inconsistencies between folios that were likely the result of factors independent of Shakespeare’s creative choices, such as period printing press practices and issues of copyright and legal ownership of content (pg. 260, 262). When reproducing facsimiles of Shakespeare text, publishers are faced with the dilemma of choosing between different versions of the same play. Yet, de Grazia and Stallybrass reveal that the “number and variety” of modern Shakespeare texts “approximate the instability of the early playtexts,” meaning that Shakespeare reproductions in whole have actually replicated the only common factor that “original” Shakespeare folios shared: the inconsistency in content.
The instability of Shakespearean text is also present in performances of the plays. De Grazia and Stallybrass reference Stephen Orgel, who claims that performance is inherently “malleable” because the reference text in performance, the script, changes “as the performers decide to change it” (pg. 260). Thus, in the same way that there is no one original Shakespeare text or folio, there is also no single performance of a Shakespearean play which acts as the authority for other performances.
Building on de Grazia and Stallygrass’s arguments, I believe that the only form of authenticity in Shakespearean works is the inconsistency that is an essential quality in the first Shakespeare folios, the ensuing attempts of Shakespeare text reproductions, and performances of Shakespearean text. This belief informed my decision to not only replicate the text of my folio but to also embed clips of performances for the viewer to experience alongside the text. The discordance between audio clips and between the audio and the text will offer the viewer an experience of the inconsistency within Shakespeare content, and is my attempt at referencing the “original” Shakespearean text and replicating “authentic” Shakespeare material.
THE PAGE AS A UNIT
Although my project attempts to mimic the appearance of the folio’s codex form by using a screenshot of a blank folio page as the background image and a font similar to that of the folio, I have made no attempt to paginate my digitization. This is because I view pages in a physical book as a unit on a different scale from pages online. Pages in a book are all understood to contain content that is connected topically through the theme of the book. Books, however, are not linked to one another physically or thematically, unless explicitly framed otherwise (in the case of a book series). Thus, pages in books are units which physically and thematically join to create the larger unit of a book. However, one page online can often constitute an entire website. Because of the variety of content that can be hosted on one digital page, pages on the Internet are not viewed as thematically connected to one another; in terms of units, online pages are more comparable with the unit of physical books than the unit of a book’s page. As such, I believe that separating Act 3, Scene 4 onto multiple online pages would be illogical; the viewer would assume that the content on different online pages would be unrelated to one another unless I specifically detailed otherwise. Displaying the entire project on one online page is more efficient and faithful to the scale of units on the Internet.
MY PERSPECTIVE ON FACSIMILE
As I have already discussed, my final project does not make much effort to exactly replicate the physicality of the folio’s codex form. Much of the content on physical folio is meaningless to those who are not well-versed in printing press customs and processes of the 17th century (i.e. the portion of the population that has not read Gaskell’s New Introduction to Bibliography). For instance, my inclusion of the three catchwords on the pages I digitized would not carry much meaning for many viewers. This is also the reason I chose not to include the full name of the folio on my project: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, histories and tragedies: published according to the true original copies. Unto which is added seven plays, never before printed in folio: viz. Pericles Prince of Tyre, The London prodigal, The history of Thomas Lord Cromwel, Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, The Puritan widow, A Yorkshire tragedy, The tragedy of Locrine. The Fourth ed. London, printed for H. Herringman, and R. Bentley, 1685.
I view the physical experience of interacting with the book, — or, as Walter Benjamin would say, experiencing the folio’s “position in time and space” — as mostly sensory indicators of age; the sensation of thin, fragile paper between your fingers, the smell of a musty book, and the visual formatting of the pages are all signals that the codex folio is old. I have attempted to transfer this information through the title of the online page which indicates that the folio was published in 1685, and by mimicking the texture of a physical page and visual style through the online page’s background image and font choice. Otherwise, the bulk of my replication skills have gone towards displaying the inconsistency of content in Shakespearean works, which I have determined to be the only true sign of authenticity within Shakespeare reproductions.
ACT 3, SCENE 4 OF HAMLET AND MY AUDIO CLIP SOURCES
As some viewers already know, my choice to digitize Act 3, Scene 4 of Hamlet from the folio was largely motivated by convenience of performance accessibility and variance of performances. While seeking audio content for my final project, I ultimately chose to use clips from five performances of the scene: Gregory Doran’s 2009 TV movie production starring David Tennant as Hamlet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOjpvNPr3JU), Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 film starring Mel Gibson as Hamlet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyHIDX5vC5A), the 1948 film directed by Sir Laurence Olivier and starring himself as Hamlet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhW7bOoTxxQ), the 1964 BBC production starring Christopher Plummer as Hamlet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1d4-r0oCmYw), and lastly, a performance of the scene starring Patrick Alparone as Hamlet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbFJsdvXDEs). The last performance was a video produced by a company called myShakespeare, which posts performances of Shakespeare scenes as an educational tool to help students understand the text.
Most of my audio clips come from onscreen performances of the play, as opposed to live performances. While live theatre performances may be more representative of how Shakespearean text is most often personified, I chose to analyze performances from the above sources because of increased accessibility to the sources. Not only were these versions easier for me to find and examine closely in high quality, but I also believe that film iterations of Shakespeare plays have wider audiences than theatre performances, and that the sources I chose are more likely to be associated with the text of Hamlet than theatrical productions (e.g. more people probably envision David Tennant as Hamlet than they do Trevor Parece, my friend who played Hamlet in his high school production). The myShakespeare source is an attempt at providing audio clips from a more intimate performance, although the video is still edited and the performance is not live. However, there is no background music as there is in some audio from the films, and the actors sound less polished and professional.
THE DESIGN OF THE EMBEDDED AUDIO
The viewer will notice that the embedded audio in my digitization varies in both the number of audio tracks and the amount of discordance with the text. In this section, I will explain my reasoning behind my design of the audio clips.
In total, I compared five audio versions of the scene (see above section) with one text version (found in the 1685 Fourth Folio). However, some audio clips may only have two, three, or four versions of the same line. This variance may be due to the availability of content; not all the performances I accessed acted out the full scene. The Mel Gibson version I examined was only two minutes long and only provided audio content for a quarter of the entire scene. However, the difference in audio clip design is most likely because of clarity issues. The quality of the audio in all five sources varied so greatly that I found it difficult layering five tracks on top of one another in a way which allowed the viewer to distinguish what all five voices were saying. I decided to not include audio tracks if they contained distracting noises (e.g. another actor sighing, groaning, or screaming while the primary actor is speaking the line) or if the speaking pattern of one actor was too different from another’s. Different actors spoke at various speeds, and occasionally, their voice cadences were so incompatible that when played at the same time, I found it impossible to understand what both were saying. My main objective in choosing to embed audio was to showcase difference. If four actors were saying the same words and Mel Gibson was the only Hamlet speaking a different version of the line, I would choose to include two or three voices in the track as opposed to all five: Mel Gibson, and two other Hamlets, in order to convey the disparity between performances while maintaining clarity for the viewer.
I decided to create audio clips based on disparity both between performances and text and within performances. For example, in the case of a line which is presented in text as, “Come, go, you question with an idle tongue,” all five performances I analyzed delivered the line as “Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.” There is no disparity within the five performances, as they all diverge from the text in the same manner, but I created and embedded an audio clip in the line because I wanted to show such a distinct difference between performance and folio text. This kind of disparity is again found in a line which is, “But would you were not so,” in the folio text, but performed as “And would it were not so” by all five audio sources.
However, I also included audio clips in situations in which the various performances delivered the same line differently. In the folio line, “A Station like the Herald Mercury,” Olivier says “stature” instead of “station,” while Tennant and Plummer both say “station.” Thus, while two audio clips agree with the folio text, one does not; by overlaying the clips together and embedding the audio into the text, I am emphasizing the tension both within the different performances and between the language of the audio and the language of the written text.
CONJECTURES ON VARIANCE IN THE TEXT AND PERFORMANCES
Throughout my specific analysis of differences between the folio text and performances, I found great enjoyment in speculating on the causes for certain variations. For example, I believe that the folio line, “Come, go, you question with an idle tongue” could easily be a printing mistake, in which the paper slipped or parts of the previous line in the text, “Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue” were accidentally reprinted. Similarly, it is easy to imagine that the BBC iteration of the textual, “Have you forgot me?” as “Hast thou forgot me?” was motivated by notions of Shakespearean grammar and authenticity. However, I am particularly intrigued by the disparity between the text, “Here is your Husband, like a Mildew’d Deer” and its audio iteration, which three performances deliver distinctly as, “Here is your Husband, like a Mildew’d ear.” I believe that this variance simply must be the product of performance and text working in conjunction to create inconsistency. Someone could have misheard a performance of the line and transferred this misinterpretation of audio into text when reproducing the text of the play. While some may be interested in seeking out the “original” Shakespeare folios, I myself am more interested in the origination of variances and inconsistencies between Shakespeare reproductions. Take the line directly after the “Mildew’d Deer/Mildew’d ear:” the textual language presents it as, “Blasting his wholsome breath,” while Tennant, Olivier, and Plummer all say, “Blasting his wholsom brother” instead. I am baffled!
SHAKESPEARE IN THE CONTEXT OF LANGUAGE PHILOSOPHY
I am particularly interested in examining Shakespearean works within the context of Saussure’s philosophy. Specifically, I would like to address Saussure’s positioning of writing as a signifier of a signifier through an analysis of Shakespearean reproductions; as I have previously discussed in this text, Shakespeare content complicates the idea that speech can correspond directly to writing, and vice versa. Performances of Shakespeare plays are situations in which speech, or the lines that actors are delivering, is viewed as an interpretation or a signifier of the text, which is considered source material, or the signified. This mentality overturns Saussure’s assertion that writing is a representation of speech by framing a performance as a representation of a play’s text. In response, Saussure might argue that because plays are written in order to be performed, the performance and delivery of the plays signify Shakespeare’s thoughts, and that the text of a play functions as a signifier for a performance, which the nature of a play positions as the ultimate form of communication.
However, the signifier of a signifier system which Saussure perpetuates creates a hierarchy between forms of communication. In the context of Shakespearean works, where the text shapes speech performance as much as speech shapes the text, this hierarchy is unnecessary and hinders readers of the text, audience members of the performances, and viewers of my final project from fully understanding the nature of Shakespearean reproduction and digitization. The vast amount of slippage that occurs when David Tennant, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Christopher Plummer collectively utter “brother” instead of “breath” cannot simply be explained by a system which positions writing as secondary to speech. Saussure’s philosophy applies only to the specific situation of an individual from the Western hemisphere sitting down at a desk and writing in a journal; it does not account for the systems of production and all the individuals that shape the creation of published works and their performances, and that mediate the interplay and slippage which occurs between text and soliloquy. These processes are further detailed in de Grazia and Stallybrass’s article, when they assert that variance in folios and performances are not necessarily due to Shakespeare’s or a performer’s misrepresentation of an idea; inconsistencies can often be attributed to outside forces (pg. 260). By neglecting the impact that these outside forces have on shaping communication, Saussure’s signifier-signified system fails to explain the complete scope of the relationship between text and speech in Shakespearean reproductions.