As Shakespeare Liked It

By: Jenny Moore

Romeo and Juliet is a timeless tale of romance, revenge, and family feuds. This tale has been performed on countless stages, taught in English classrooms, and even made for the silver screen. But, how much do you really know about the mastermind behind it all? William Shakespeare is recognized around the world for his literary genius, but not much is known about the daily things he did. Frankly, we don’t know much about what any individuals did.  Early Modern England is a mystery, but now, exactly 400 years after his death, we are finally trying to understand this mysterious time period. Through the Zooniverse project Shakespeare’s World, citizen scientists can help unravel the mysteries of this past world.

The project is simple. You are given a page from either a recipe book or a letter that was written by Shakespeare or one of his peers and a cipher key for the cursive writing. Then you’re asked to transcribe what you can; you can transcribe the whole page, or just a sentence. Then you simply click done and move on to a new page! Multiple people may be given the same page if you decided not to transcribe all of it. The fully transcribe page is sent to the scientist behind the project and they review it.

Now, here’s the interesting part, not only are you helping unravel this mysterious time period, but you’re also helping understand how the English language developed. Shakespeare practically had his own language with hundreds of words that he created and used throughout his writings. You possibly could come across a word or phrase that hasn’t been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary! How awesome is that! However these words are written in Old English. Discovering them and transcribing them in turn will help historians discern how Modern English developed from these old terms.

This project, while not only helping the Oxford English Dictionary expand its vocabulary, is crucial in helping understand this time period in a way that Historians and textbooks cannot describe. These texts that you will transcribe help us understand what daily life was like in the past. They focus on individuals and their interests, rather than society as a whole. They transport us back in time and immerse us in what life was like then!

Now, the project is still in the initial phases. So, they only have you transcribe letters and recipe books to focus specifically on individuals actions, instead of broad topics in Shakespeare’s community. Phase one of this project is designed to understand the individuals of Early Modern England, not the society as a whole. In the future, however,  the scientists behind it plan on transcribing family papers and even legal documents to begin understanding the entire society.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, what better time to start learning about this creative giant? So get out there and start transcribing!!


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