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Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive

30 November 2016

Sycroax

A new digital archive featuring more than 3,000 digitized illustrations from four major UK editions of Shakespeare’s Complete Works published in the mid-19th century.

Created by Doctoral candidate in English Literature, Michael John Goodman, the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive is an online open access digital archive that contains over 3000 illustrations from the four most significant illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s Complete Works in the Victorian period.

As well as highlighting how different illustrators approached the same text with very different styles, the illustrations provide an insight into how the Victorians visualised the Shakespeare world, before the advent of cinema, relying just as much on illustrations as on the theatre.

The novel design of the archive allows users to use word clouds to search the illustrations by motif, from the magical (witches, fairies, ghosts) to the grim (death, daggers, beheadings). With categories like Clowns, Castles, Horses, Kings, Moons, Musicians, Ships, and Swords, the word cloud reveals how, despite all the intricacy of his works, Shakespeare built all of his plays from a limited set of basic elements.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

“The database emphasizes that there really is a ‘Shakespeare Universe’ where different motifs, ideas and themes recur,” says Michael, who created the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive as part of his PhD project in English Literature at Cardiff University. “By being able to visualize Shakespeare’s plays in this way, we can appreciate how the plays are like a hall of mirrors — they reflect certain ideas back to each other.”

Using Photoshop to isolate the illustrations, Michael single-handedly scanned more than 3,000 illustrations from hard copies of the play collections, thoroughly tagging each image, making the archive a long and labour-intensive project.

In addition to the search clouds, the user friendly site allows users to search by each of the four editions and access each individual play’s digitized illustrations by type—“Histories,” “Comedies,” and “Tragedies.”

All of the content on the site is free through a Creative Commons license: users can share illustrations on social media, remix, research, create and do whatever they choose with them. This is a new kind of academic resource that will appeal as much to Shakespeare scholars and Victorianists as to artists, makers, and creators.

Enquiries regarding the archive should be directed to Michael Goodman, or via Twitter @mikeygoodman1.

Browse the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive here.