HyperHamlet is a database of references to Shakespeare's most famous play. Structured as a hypertext of Hamlet, it gives access to thousands of extracts from later texts that quote particular lines. Extracts which mention certain characters or scenes can be searched for these names and motifs.
HyperHamlet could be described as a dictionary-in-progress which does not tell us where phrases come from (as other dictionaries do), but rather where Shakespeare's phrases have gone.
But HyperHamlet is also an edition of Shakespeare's play. It is unusual because it
... does not try to reconstruct the best possible, "original" text
... does not try to explain what the text may have meant to the author or to its first audiences
... does not try to remove accretions that may have settled on the play over the centuries
Instead, HyperHamlet documents
… how narratives, scenes, figures, phrases and ideas from the play have entered the discourse of periods, genres and individuals
… how quotations and allusions have enhanced the play's status as a classic1
… how later references have fed back into the understanding of the play
In other words, HyperHamlet offers material to reconstruct the cultural history of the play, of which "the dream of the master text",2 in Stephen Greenblatt's apt phrase, has become part.
References to Hamlet in literature, in the visual arts, in political discourse, and, more recently, in advertising and merchandising can tell us a great deal about the status and the understanding of the play. The database can help to address questions like: How could "to be or not to be" become a favourite phrase of the Nazi elite? What notions shape Lawrence Sterne's use of Yorick in Tristram Shandy, and how has Sterne, in turn, affected our understanding of the play? Are phrases like "something rotten in Denmark" recognized as Hamlet quotations or have they simply become part of the language? Were they indeed idioms before Shakespeare used them, and just became more "successful" by being used in such a successful text?
Intertextual research in literary and cultural studies still tends to be interested in origins and influences. Many later uses which HyperHamlet records go beyond this author-centred focus of source studies, but the findings of source studies represent a substantial part of the databank. HyperHamlet documents thousands of references that have been pointed out in annotated editions or publications in the fields of Shakespeare studies or literary and cultural studies in general.
These quotations are now contextualized with re-used Hamlet phrases that are commented on in linguistic studies and have been spotted by private reading of contributors worldwide or by searches in electronic full text databases. Such verbal echoes have often gone unreported because they are unmarked and may even be used without any awareness of their origin. They illustrate process the synchronous universe of texts described in intertextuality theory.
HyperHamlet is the first project to approach these issues with a data-driven approach.3 Questions like the above can contribute the shift of attention "from the triad constituted by author/work/tradition to another constituted by text/discourse/culture"4 and thus move practical intertextuality studies forward. The model can be re-applied with any other much-quoted text as its basis to document, for example, the afterlife of the Bible, of further Shakespeare plays or of other influential literary works.
1 Cf. Balz Engler. Poetry and Community. Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 1990. ch. 3, 42-57. This is a revised version of "The Classic as a Public Symbol," REAL: Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature 6. 1988/89. 217-36.
2 The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1997. 65.
3 Cf. Regula Hohl Trillini and Sixta Quassdorf. "A 'Key to all Quotations'? A corpus-based parameter model of intertextuality." Literary and Linguistic Computing 2010; doi: 10.1093/llc/fqq003.
4 George P. Landow. Hypertext: The Conversion of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992. 10.