To celebrate Shakespeare's birthday, here are three birthday presents for us web/tech types:
First, The Complete Shakespeare Reader 1.0 for PC only from Download.com. Here is the blurb:
It has a three-panel layout: an index to the complete works in the left frame, the text in a central pane, and a scenes TOC on the right. It also features a pop-up notepad to take notes on any of the plays while you read, a full-screen mode, and, best of all, a search feature. This is a desktop client program. The text appears to be the public domain, universal moby text used by Project Gutenberg and MIT, and one of the down sides is that there are absolutely no notes, glosses or critical apparatus. Of course, one might not regard this as a down side, but I do. The non-dramatic poetry is not included. J. D. Biersdorfer, who featured this download in the Times, suggests that it is "great for netbook reading." Maybe. It depends on how you feel about reading from your vertical LCD.
If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch you may be interested in a giveaway from the Apple iTunes App store called "Readdle Shakespeare." (I know. When will it stop?) It is a joint effort between Readdle and PlayShakespeare.com, containing "Full, high-quality texts of 40 plays...All six poems and all 154 sonnets, searchable condordance," etc. Find it through iTunes at the app store. It is free, which is a good thing. In my opinion the iPod Touch and iPhone screen is just too small to be an effective e-reader, but the search functionality might be useful in a pinch.
The application settings allow for turning on a page scroll by tap feature, changing text color, and adjusting font size by choosing from among seven sizes from tiny to Largest. The Search functionality is across all works, and the text seems to be a custom hybrid text. Using the downloadable reader mentioned above and searching for "petard" will find Hamlet, 3.4.225 "Hoist with his own petard." Searching the Readdle app for the same term will return nothing. Searching for "petar" however, will return Hamlet Act III (nothing more specific). Both applications will jump to the passage in context. Once again, there are no glosses or student helps, just the text, of a sort. No explanation of why "petar" is used rather than "petard." Granted, most won't care, but many will, especially in an academic context.
The main problem with the Readdle app, of course, is that the iPod screen is just to small for extended reading. At larger font sizes the lines do not break appropriately and there are too few words on the screen to read smoothly. Even at the tiniest font size this is a problem. Furthermore, to do a search you have to use the iPhone's (or iPod's) dinky littly touch sensitive onscreen keyboard to type in the term, which is less than pleasant. In short, the footprint is just too small, but, what do you want for free?
A third free alternative, if you have an Amazon Kindle, is to search the Kindle store for Shakespeare. Then sort the search results by price from Low to High. You will find quite a number of free editions. Surprisingly, you will find quite a number of old books related to Shakespearean topics, like A. C. Swinburne's A Study of Shakespeare, Frank Harris' (!) old bio, Shakespeare The Man, or C. M. Ingleby's Shakespeare's Bones, a work that sounds like it will be enormously interesting but is dry as, yes, bones.
A search at the Kindle store on Shakespeare Complete Works, appropriately sorted by price from low to high, shows that at Amazon you will not find a complete works edition that is free, but many for very low costs. You must be very careful when searching the Kindle store, however. The blurbs associated with many works have nothing to do with the work you are downloading. For instance, a search for this edition of the Complete Works would lead you to believe that you are getting a copy of the Bevington 6th edition text. Not at all. It is just another download of a public domain text, with no notes or critical apparatus, but the blurb makes you believe otherwise. For 99 cents, however, it ain't bad.
Amazon is not the only place to get eBooks, however. There are scads of them free at Project Gutenberg. You can find the Complete Works in both mobi and epub formats here.