New Variorum Shakespeare

The NVS interface visualizes editorial changes to Shakespeare’s plays across hundreds of years.

Project Website:
KDL Research Lead/s: Anne Burdick, PI
Partner Lead/s: Laura Mandell, Bryan Tarpley, Katayoun Torabi, CoDHR
Status: Ongoing
Start Date: November 2019
Partner/s: Center of Digital Humanities Research (CoDHR) at Texas A&M
Funding: Modern Language Association

In 2019, the Modern Language Association’s Executive Council awarded the Center of Digital Humanities Research (CoDHR) at Texas A&M a grant to publish The New Variorum Shakespeare (NVS) editions online, making them freely available to readers, scholars, educators, students, and performers via an open access, interactive web application. The NVS Team at CoDHR brought in Anne Burdick from the Knowledge Design Lab to develop an interface that includes the complete text of each play along with a full collation of textual notes from the earliest editions to the present, including extensive previous commentary for each edition. 

In 2021, the first New Variorum Shakespeare (NVS) digital editions for The Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were launched. The beta version features the Variorum Reader, a web application designed to address the complex demands of a variorum. Used by literary scholars and historians, a variorum focuses on a single text or author, bringing together a record of textual changes (and their debates) made over time. The interface design challenge involved translating the 500+ page NVS print editions, including idiosyncratic textual shorthand and extensive appendices (all encoded in TEI) into a dynamic and accessible website

The Variorum Reader holds the three main components of a variorum: the playtext — a base level “copy-text”; textual notes — all of the variants across editions when compared line by line, word by word, and character by character; and commentary notes — centuries of scholarly opinion and interpretation, dating, sources. Each edition holds over a thousand cross-references. The Variorum Reader enables a reader to access its contents without the need to learn arcane nomenclature or lose their place in a play.

Textual changes are highlighted so the reader can immediately see and compare variations. A histogram shows the changes made across time by different editors, and pop-up modals provide bibliographic detail. The histogram is both information visualization and navigational component, allowing the reader to quickly ascertain the quantity, frequency, and durability of editorial changes made across editions. The Variorum Reader is thus designed for close, distant, and all forms of reading in between — as an information interface, a reading space, and a scholarly tool.

The project is ongoing. Phase 2 will bring the site out of beta by addressing accessibility, mobile users, and a user-friendly approach to the appendices. Phase 3 will continue the research into what new forms of digital scholarly interpretation might emerge through advanced search and visualization tools.

Project Team: Anne Burdick, KDL, Site Designer; Laura Mandell, CoDHR, Director; Bryan Tarpley, CODHR, Lead Software Developer; Katayoun Torabi, CoDHR, NVS Project Manager; Kayley Hart, CoDHR, Graduate Student Researcher; Will McLean, KDL, Front-end Developer

Research outputs to date:
Project —
NVS website, including editions for The Winter’s Tale and Midsummer Night’s Dream
Publications —
Burdick A, Mandell L, Tarpley B, Tourabi K, “Using Data and Design to Bring the New Variorum Shakespeare Online,” Shakespeare and Interface, Paul Budra and Cliff Werier, editors, Routledge, forthcoming