Computers & Texts No. 15
Table of Contents
August 1997

Response to Dr Chothia's Review of the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM

Nicholas Kind
Professor Jonathan Bate
The Arden Shakespeare

We read Jean Chothia's review of The Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM: Texts and Sources for Shakespeare Studies with considerable interest and some regret. Whilst not the original developers of the CD-ROM (that credit lies firmly with Brad Scott and his team at Routledge), Thomas Nelson and the Arden Shakespeare team are convinced of its benefits for teachers, researchers, students and scholars of Shakespeare worldwide. The Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM has been acclaimed by some of the most influential and electronically-focused members of the Shakespearean scholarly community as a pioneering and startlingly useful deployment of electronic media in the discipline. It was produced after several years of hard thought and often thankless and highly detailed work, which was initiated not through cynicism but by a desire to engage with the exciting possibilities of new media for the academic publishing world. The development cost of the entire project was substantial and would certainly have made any commercial cynic blanch.

The review is inaccurate in some places. It is in fact possible to print off sections of Arden text; the price of £2,500 includes a ten concurrent user licence for a network; highlighting of sources can be turned off, and the sources accessed in ways which avoid any correlation of source passages to scenes.

Choice of Editions

However, the main charge of the article is that the CD-ROM contains Arden second series rather than third series texts. This was an issue that was debated carefully during the development process, and the decision not to include Arden 3 texts was made on a number of grounds:

  1. Any text of Shakespeare used in a publishing venture (even the First Folio) is subject to a process of mediation from a corpus of dramatic work that is by its very nature unattainable in a perfect form. The aim of the Arden Shakespeare CD-ROM is not to present a final text of Shakespeare; it is, at least partly, to reveal the process of mediation insofar as possible and invite debate about it from student and teacher; and, furthermore, to invite debate about Shakespeare's use of the materials that were transformed into his plays and poems.
  2. The product took three years from concept to delivery. In 1995 the Arden third series had hardly started. Even if the disc were to have been released in 1997 with the possible Arden 3 texts squeezed on, there would have only been four of them. A complete Arden third edition disc will not be possible, at a current best estimate, until 2006. Providing a pioneering and useful tool presented an opportunity that was worth taking; and including four Arden 3 texts not only presented a number of technical problems but also invited grave accusations of being confusing and misleading.
  3. Were the CD-ROM to have been offered as a subscription with Arden 3 texts replacing the Arden 2s as they emerge (a 'Forth Bridge' CD-ROM, perhaps?), the cost of maintaining the product, in particular the dense network of cross-references and line number resolutions, would have made it prohibitively expensive.
  4. There is a huge amount of valuable material in the Arden 2 texts. Additionally, as the texts go out of print, the CD-ROM will serve as a valuable archive of a substantial and important part of Shakespeare scholarship in the late twentieth century.

Demonstration Version

We trust that the readers of Computers and Texts will take up the (entirely free) opportunity of receiving a demonstration CD-ROM from the Arden Shakespeare to judge Texts and Sources for Shakespeare Studies for themselves. This disc has all the functionality of the full version, but only three plays. A number of academic institutions worldwide have already used it as the basis of making a decision to purchase what we feel is the best electronic resource for Shakespeare studies available on the market today.

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

Computers & Texts 15 (1997), p.19 Not to be republished in any form without the author's permission.

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