How to Annotate

Annotations can look like...

A definition of an unfamiliar word:

    “Furlong: an older term for an eighth of a mile.”

A connection to your personal experience (that you feel comfortable sharing) and perception of the COVID-19 pandemic or current cultural moment:

    --“I bet Leontes is the kind of person who wouldn’t wear a mask”
    --“This reminds me of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in prisons”
    --“As a woman, the way Hermione is treated here is really shocking to me. By modern standards, I think this definitely counts as abuse.”

A question you have about the text, or one you’d like others to think about:

    --“What does this even mean? Do deer actually sigh when they die?”
    --“Why are cuckolds thought of as having horns? Does anyone know where this idea came from?”

A note on a word, line, concept, or idea you find interesting:

    --“Jealousy = an illness?”
    --“Leontes thinks of his jealousy as a literal ‘infection’ here”
    --“If Leontes can see that he is acting irrationally, why doesn’t he stop? Is this what makes his jealousy like a disease? Is he more or less blameworthy because he’s acting under the influence of an ‘illness?’”

A response to someone else’s annotation:

    --“Leontes’ jealous ‘infection’ seems pretty self-inflicted to me; I think he’s trying to remove his own agency so that he can’t be held accountable for his actions, both in his own conscience and in the eyes of others.”
    --“Re: cuckolds having horns, a common explanation I’ve heard is that horned animals can’t see their own horns; likewise, cuckolded partners are usually the last to know about their partner’s infidelities, though it may be obvious to everyone else.”

Sharing information from a relevant website, academic or news article, or other source:*

    --“This reminds me of the rapid spread of COVID-19 in prisons, documented by the Marshall Project here:
    --“Furlong: an older term for an eighth of a mile. According to the definition I found on Wikipedia, it originally referred to the length of the furrow in one acre of a plowed field, and marked the distance a team of oxen could plow without resting:

Some questions to consider when annotating:

    - How does your own experience of the COVID-19 pandemic inform how you read Shakespeare? How does Shakespeare inform your response to COVID-19? Are there any recent personal or public developments in your experience that you see mirrored in the texts?

    - How do we define an “illness”? Aside from physical disease, are there any deviant identities, ideas, emotions, or behaviors that are more broadly characterized as “sick” in the texts and in our societies? What “social pandemics” do you see being defined, regulated, combatted, or even encouraged, both in the plays and in your current cultural discourse?

    - How are conversations in and about Shakespeare mediated by experiences of race, religion, ethnicity, class, and gender? How is your own response to COVID-19 mediated by your personal and public experiences of race, religion, ethnicity, class, and gender?

    - What social power dynamics do you see reinforced (or challenged) in the plays? What does it mean for us to find common ground in Shakespeare, a white male author who carries his own literary, racial, and gendered privilege?

    - How much has really changed in our beliefs, biases, stigmas, and misunderstandings towards both literal diseases and “ills of society” in the 400+ years since Shakespeare wrote his plays?

Your voice is welcome here!

No annotation is too short, too simple, or too “casual.” We are less interested in finding the “best” formal annotations than we are with creating a safe, inclusive space for the individual experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic not adequately captured by any editorial, health report, government dispatch, or news article. This website aims to foster global interconnectivity not only around larger themes of illness, isolation, social crisis, and inequality, but also shared pleasure, joy, and humor during frightful and unstable times. For ease of website moderation with our small team, the plays on this website are in English; however, we recognize and welcome non-native English speakers to engage with these texts, and do not censor, penalize, or edit annotations for spelling or grammatical errors.

We value curiosity and engagement with Shakespeare on multiple levels--annotations need not be grammatically correct, nor longer than a phrase or two. Unsure of what to write? Define a word that might not be familiar to everyone, link to a news article you think might be interesting to others, or write down questions you have about the text--there might be another reader who can answer them! We feel that there are no “dumb” questions, we foster no shame for being new to the texts, and we enforce no penalties for misspellings, capitalization or punctuation errors, and so on. This is not a space for reinforcing intellectual hierarchies via the performance and demonstration of expertise, but rather a space to find connections and common ground in our experiences of the global pandemic.

That said, longer or more elaborate annotations, of course, are also welcome. Whatever your field of interest or unique viewpoint is, we welcome your full insights here.

Remember: when reckoning with “pandemics,” we are not limited only to literal interpretations: racism, misogyny, misinformation, police brutality, healthcare discrimination, systemic inequality, and the oppression, silencing, and exclusion of non-normative identities are all “viruses” in their own right, the roots of which are difficult to fully eradicate in the psyche even if we successfully implement much-needed policy changes on the outside.

As is the transmission route of COVID-19, we are often surrounded by unseen carriers of these biases, even within ourselves, and may transmit them unknowingly in our thoughts, words, and actions without proactive steps to eradicate and unlearn them. Additionally, Shakespeare himself, a global phenomenon carried by colonialism, should also be put under the spotlight as a “viral” figure, even as we find resonances of our own experiences in his work. Shakespeare, a cultural monolith often co-opted to lend authority to verbal, written, and political agendas, for good or for ill, can and should be questioned, interrogated, and challenged, and we invite you to do so here.

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