Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Folger Digital Texts

I’m Charlene V. Smith and I’m live blogging Saturday’s Lunch and Learn Session featuring a website demonstration by Michael Poston and Rebecca Niles of the Folger Digital Texts.

Niles opens the presentation by describing the basics of the Folger Digital Texts. FDT are XML-encoded versions of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions. They are a free and reliable resource, professionally edited by Paul Werstine and Barbara Mowat. The XML infrastructure means that every word, space, and punctuation mark has its own identifier within the code. Currently this project has published online the play-texts of fifteen plays. They can be read online or copied and pasted for offline use. All of the source code is also available for download.

From the website you can download the code as well as documentation about how the code works. An audience members asks what the benefit of downloading the code would be, instead of the regular text. Niles explains that the code has information embedded which you can alter if you need to. For example, you could run a code that pulls out all of Romeo’s speeches.

While in the play menu section of the website, you can search through the text, make comparisons, or read an individual play. When you call up a play, the left side of the screen displays a table of contents, allowing for quick moving around. You can also skip to a particular act, scene, and line number. These texts are also coded with Through Line Numbering. Every navigation choice you make reloads a new URL. This feature is a powerful help, as you can save a URL to a particular line or speech. For example, here is Juliet’s most famous line. Niles notes, in response to audience questions, that they would like to move towards a more sophisticated search function. Because they were adding one text at a time, and thus there wasn’t much information to search through at first, such a search function wasn’t a high priority initially.

Poston next takes over the presentation to talk about the future of FDT and the implications of this coding project. Poston tells us about the F21 project, a project designed to enhance the EEBO coding of early modern drama in order to make hundreds of new plays readily available. He displays an example of Massacre at Paris. For this play, like many others, we don’t have a clean, edited text to start with, unlike the plays by Shakespeare. Poston has also been working on an API for FDT, which allows you to interact with the text on a single word basis, calling up information on whether there are alternate readings, where the word is located in a text, and who speaks the word. The API also can identify what characters are on stage during a particular line, and what characters are included in a particular stage direction. This information can be placed into chart form. This feature is currently a work in progress. The audience is excited by the possibilities for doubling charts this feature could have.

They are also developing textual notes which would display the Folger’s punctuation versus Folio punctuation, and other such textual variants. Poston tells the audience that they are still working on how to make this information accessible, while remaining a readable text. They also intend to create an annotation environment which can link information, sound, video, and pictures to specific words or moments in the text.

Poston and Niles discuss the issues and questions they’ve struggled with while developing FDT. Print allows you to be ambiguous in a way that coding does not. In coding the character is either onstage or he is offstage. Poston points out a moment in Shrew in which servants enter – Which servants? How many? Which servant is the one that Petruchio hits? Which servant is the first one to exit? Which servant is Nathaniel and which is Peter? How do you code ambiguity? Poston has come up with a decimal system that allows you to put in what you know, but leave in other possibilities. Messengers.x.1 could be the same as Messengers.x.2, but doesn’t have to be. Macbeth has 3 murders, but also moments where a murderer is non-specified. These would be coded as Murderers.1, Murderers.2, Murderers.3, and then Murderers.x, which could be either 1, 2, or 3.

This coding also allows for the creation of parts (cue scripts) that includes the pertinent stage directions. These are still a work in progress and unpolished. So though some of them are published to the internet, they are not yet readily available from the main webpage. They are also developing WIT scripts (for witness) that would display the scenes in which a certain character is present.

The challenge they are facing is adding functionality to the website without being theatrically or textually prescriptive.