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Thought I would take a quick break from a paper grading / exam writing crunch to comment on exciting recent developments on the web in terms of digital Shakespeare studies. For those primarily interested in quantitative data, it was recently announced that Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine, had indexed the complete works of Shakespeare, which were now available for public queries. Philologists and formalists should find this to be a particularly useful resource. As an example, I ran a search on Othello and received the following results:

-The play has 26,078 words (3719 unique), with 2968 unique word stems, an average of 4.01 characters per word;
-It should take approximately 95 minutes to read the play silently.
-The longest words are “notwithstanding,” “disproportion’d,” and “circumscription.”
-Iago dominates the play (granted, this is not exactly news) with 8445 words spoken during 272 appearances.
-Othello comes second, speaking 6256 words in 274 appearances.
-A slightly more though-provoking statistic indicates that Desdemona comes third, speaking 2757 words in 165 appearances.

There’s a good deal more information available on the site, although full access (including distribution charts and graphs for word frequency and so forth) requires a paid membership to Wolfram Alpha Pro. Still, the price is negligible — $4.99 per month, $2.99 for students — and the data is invaluable, so for those whose research interests lie in this direction, it’s an invaluable resource.

However, I’m personally a bit more excited about the new myShakespeare website, a joint project of the World Shakespeare Festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company. On the main, the website operates as a portal to various Shakespeare-related projects across the web. Some of these projects are simply being shared or blogged about by interested individuals, while others, such as Will Power’s forthcoming Hip-Hop Shakespeare project, have been commissioned by the Festival.

What I am more interested in at this juncture, however, is Banquo. This is a live, streaming feed of Shakespeare-related conversations, items, and images from Flickr, Twitter, and eBay, organized by genre and play. This is a fantastic resource, one that I have been trying to incorporate into my own Shakespeare courses via Twitter alone — a constantly updated, short, easy-to-track feed of current Shakespeare related conversations. Whereas a single Twitter feed has obvious limitations — time available to manage the feed, deciding who to track and whether to simply retweet a link, vetting the source for reliability and content, etc — Banquo allows users to track multiple feeds simultaneously. By allowing users to customize what they see on the feed, they eliminate the sometimes too-focused results that Twitter provides on its own; instead of switching back and forth between a review of #Othello and #Macbeth, for example, Banquo provides news for both plays simultaneously. What’s more, the system archives the feed, so that it is possible to see what was being said about specific plays on a previous date.

Banquo still has a few rough edges, in my opinion. The feed is visually cluttered; eBay items are displayed in large format, dominating the screen while they scroll down very slowly. Flickr and Twitter items are much smaller and scroll past at a rapid pace, requiring the user to frequently pause the feed and drag eBay items out of the way in order to see partially-obscured Twitter and Flickr items in the background. In order to click through to an article or image, it is necessary to pause the feed, perhaps drag the item to the side where it can more clearly be displayed, and then click on a very small arrow in the upper left corner of the item which only appears after the feed has been clicked on.

These are only mild criticisms at this point, however; Banquo is both an ambitious project and a fascinating resource, and I have no doubt that future iterations will be able to respond to issues such as these. At the moment it is a unique and powerful tool for scholars, students, theater fans, and many others. I can’t wait to see how it develops!