A few weeks ago, I found out about Hack Manhattan’s Shakespeare readings, that happen on the third Monday evening of each month. All of us who attend, take turns reading the play out loud. This month, it was Henry VI, Part 2. (This is perhaps Shakespeare’s very first play, but in any event probably his first history play. There is the fascination of witnessing a budding genius at work.) I wanted to bring a version of the play that I could manage easily … not only to follow the text, but also to smoothly read aloud from, when this was called upon.. But being the purist that I am, I also wanted to use one of the early sources; I chose the First Folio of 1623. (In case you’re not aware, the First Folio is the compilation of Shakespeare’s dramatic output by his colleagues, seven years after his death. It is the only reliable source for about 20 of the Bard’s plays.)
Since I don’t have a printed version of the First Folio, I had to go online. Happily, I discovered that the Bodleian Library has crisp page images of this great book available for download as PDF’s …
There was still a slight problem, however. If I wanted to be able to continuously scroll down the text — when viewing the PDF on my Android tablet — I would have to re-jigger the page so that, instead of going to the RIGHT for the second column on a page, you would go DOWN. How to accomplish this? Luckily, I have the full Adobe Acrobat (version “XI Pro”), not just the free Adobe Reader. With this, one can “crop” a page to any dimensions desired. I took a first pass through the play, cropping each page down so that only the left-hand columns were remaining. Here, for example, is the left-hand column on the first page:
I ended up with two PDF files, a “Left” and a “Right” (with all the left and right columns, respectively). The next task was to break up each of these files into individual pages. (Luckily, Acrobat will do this automatically.) Now — you guessed it — I had to interleave the two files together, creating a final file with the order “Page 1 left”, “Page 1 right”, “Page 2 left”, “Page 2 right”, etc. (Unluckily, Acrobat does NOT do this automatically — though its “Combine Files into PDF” task makes it relatively easy.)
I could have stopped here. But I wanted to improve the clarity — and usability — of the file. So I did two more things. First, I changed the image from color to optimized monochrome. After some Googling, I found out how: In Acrobat, under Tools, go to Print Production – Preflight (I kid you not). Under “PDF fixups”, choose “Convert to grayscale”, then click on “Analyze and fix”. Here is the result, which I think you will agree is more readable than the original above:
That was the “clarity” part. Now, to enhance the “usability”, I went to “Text Recognition – Recognize text in this file”. This performs OCR (optical character recognition) on the file, making it possible to search for specific text. Purpose? To enable me to find my place in case I got lost during the group reading.
On my Samsung Android tablet — which I took along to the Hack Manhattan reading — I already had the (free) Adobe Reader installed. This worked pretty well, but I ended up using the (also free) XODO PDF reader. This allows you to not only MAKE annotations (which Adobe also does), but in addition, it has the very nice feature that lets you see an index of the pages on which you have made the annotations.
(For book reading in general, I normally much prefer to use my Nook Simple Touch e-reader, over my tablet. And indeed, if I had been alone, I would have read the PDF in this fashion. Easier on my eyes! But a group setting calls for speed and flexibility; unfortunately, my e-reader does not handle PDF’s well enough for this.)
So … how did all this end up working? Very well! True, the First Folio takes some getting used to. The v’s are printed like u’s. The s’s look like f’s. (This kind of thing resulted in text searches not always working, despite the OCR that I did.) On long lines, some words end up abbreviated, not always transparently to the modern eye. Characters can be given varying designations (name, title). Still, the Folio has obviously been produced with loving care; and though, to the modern eye, there may be obscurities, the print is clear and there are essentially no obvious “typos”. One nice reward of using the Folio is flashes of insight into possibly emphasized words (via initial capital letters) and contemporary pronunciation (via the original spellings). The absence of the Act and Scene divisions (added by later editors) promotes the fleet progress of the story.
And the best reward of all: What could be more grand than reading directly (aloud, to fellow Shakespeare lovers, no less) from one of the most important books of our Western civilization?
UPDATE 22 APR 2015
I might have spared myself some of the above, if I had known that the Bodleian site also offers PDF’s of the plays with all the original spelling etc. To-wit: