The class I’m taking in addition to Digital Humanities is Global Shakespeares. The details of the Shakespeare class (which is great so far) are less important than the fact that one of the things we’re studying this week is Shakespeare fanfic. Fanfic is absolutely part of the digital humanities.
Valerie Fazel and Louise Geddes have written a fine piece called “Give me your hands if we be friends: collaborative authority in Shakespeare fan fiction.” In it they discuss the changing nature of the relationship between readers and text engendered by digital technology, repositioning that relationship into one of a communal experience of consumption and reproduction. Fazel and Geddes seize on the idea that fanfic develops that literature can become both creational and re-creational, due to the immediacy of feedback available to the author. They use the term urtext to identify Shakespeare’s original—which, of course, isn’t the original, but a commonly-agreed upon version by the people whose job it is to make these decisions. Whoever they are.
What’s interesting to us as digital humanities students is their assertion that by moving Shakespeare online, we’ve changed both the modes of how the work is produced and received as well as opening new methods of how scholars can analyze the work (275).
Fanfic can be the most rabbity of holes, so always be warned. You’ll find out some things—like what slash fiction is. People have instructed me to avoid something called omegaverse, which of course makes me want to look more deeply into it.
I’ll point you to one work in particular that we’re looking into, The Jessica Goldberg Variations, which explores the minor character Jessica in The Merchant of Venice. I don’t want to prejudice your reading, so I’ll just say enjoy.
What’s liberating, according to Fazel and Geddes is that fanfic authors don’t face any limitations other than their own imaginations, approaching Shakespeare’s work “unconstrained” (277). I could go off on a sidebar analysis of how director Michael Radford visually constrains Al Pacino as Shylock in his 2004 production of The Merchant of Venice, but that would be getting off the point. What is to the point is that any new work always has the specter of previous works hanging over it. Once something has been accepted as cultural iconography, then fanfic producers can tap into our collective understandings as well as the urtext—and any adaptations in between.
So what does the fanfic cocktail look like? It will need to start with a classic, almost canonical element, then adapt it to meet the face of modern technology, whatever that means. Maybe that’s too broad of a characterization; perhaps we need a slash cocktail or an omegaverse cocktail. This needs a little more development, so I’m going to do what any good 21st century person does—crowdsource. You’ll wait for your drink this week, because people who haven’t even thought about it yet are going to help make it up.