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Reviewed by:
  • Sonnets
  • Wooseong Yeom
Sonnets. By William Shakespeare. London: British Library (Grenville Library), 1609. Oakland, Calif.: Octavo, 2003. CD-ROM. $30.00. ISBN 1-59110-052-6.

Reading any literature in digital form is a curious experience. Familiar physical routines one associates with reading a material object are replaced with other equivalents. The Octavo Digital Rare Book Series edition of Shakespeare's sonnets reads along these lines. "Scrolling" with keyboard strokes or mouse clicks replaces turning pages, while digital bookmarks and thumbnails supplant the traditional table of contents and index. The freedom of access that comes with reading poetry in this way generates an effortlessness that is undoubtedly different from reading it in book form. The sense of inertia that accumulates through physically turning pages seems largely absent in this medium. Instead, one is free to browse from one poem to the next, unencumbered by fixed order and location.

The Octavo series provides high-resolution, color images of rare original works cover to cover in the popular Adobe PDF format on CD-ROM for all platforms. It contains books on diverse subjects from science, history, art, religion, and literature from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. Works such as Palladio's I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura, Dürer's De Symmetria/Underweysung, Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Newton's Opticks, Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, and Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience nicely fill out the collection. In general, the two main criteria for inclusion in the Octavo series seem to be illustrative or visual content and/or relative renown.

The fidelity to the original text made possible by state-of-the-art imaging technology allows the Octavo series to occupy a particular niche among other digital or on-line resources. It caters to "archivists, students, educators, and everyday book lovers" who would experience works as they were originally published—objects whose physical attributes are integral and interrelated to the content. Indeed, the incorporation of the term "octavo" into the company name signals its desire to be associated with the community of bibliophiles, although clearly the collection does not exclusively consist of actual octavos. Images in the Octavo series are thus uncropped to provide a faithful record of the original.

The Octavo series edition of Shakespeare's sonnets contains images of the original 1609 quarto from the Grenville Library. Thomas Grenville was a statesman, book collector, and trustee of the British Museum. He bequeathed his library to the British Museum in 1846, and it is now one of the most important collections within the British Library. It contains "approximately 16,000 printed books, in over 20,200 volumes, ranging in date from the earliest printing of the fifteenth century to works published in the 1840s" (105). The Grenville Library includes fine printed editions of classical texts, early Italian and Spanish literature, early voyages and travels, works on Ireland, and Bibles. Shakespeare is represented by copies of the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Folios as well as the 1594 editions of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece and the 1609 and 1640 editions of the sonnets.

The 1609 quarto entitled Shakes-peares Sonnets was published by Thomas Thorpe, printed by George Eld, and sold by William Aspley and William Wright. It is the only complete edition of the sonnets and of A Lovers Complaint published during the author's lifetime. It is also the only printed source and the only surviving text for all but two sonnets and the complaint. Some speculate that the two booksellers split the copies equally and that, based on the analysis of the title pages of the two imprints, the Wright imprint may have been the later of the two. The Grenville quarto is one of thirteen extant copies and one of only four [End Page 95] that bears the William Aspley imprint on the title page. Seven out of the remaining nine bear the John Wright imprint, while the final two are missing title pages altogether. Aside from the title page, negligible textual difference seems to exist between the two imprints.

Although the main focus of the Octavo edition clearly lies with the sonnets themselves, it is not without...


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