Monday, January 19, 2009

Shakespeare's "Howard the Duck"

If you haven't read Titus Andronicus (and Wikipedia's excellent restorationist Shoemaker's Holiday hadn't), there's not much need to regret that particular gap in an education. Even the best of them can turn out one real dud. The only analogy that came to mind was a stretch. If Shakespeare is the Steven Spielberg of the stage, then Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare's Howard the Duck.  Shortly after getting that explanation Shoemaker read the plot summary.  It wasn't the cannibalism that bothered Shoe quite so much, well...find out for yourself if you dare.

Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom has claimed that the play cannot be taken seriously and that the best imaginable production would be one directed by Mel Brooks.
Shoemaker, though, was interested in a detail. And that detail is worth attention as an example of digital image management.

The article has a larger version of the illustration above. Obviously the illustration reflects a high technical standard of workmanship and it looks like the book was a good reproduction. A little staining at the bottom border is a minor concern. This ought to be good material for restoration, but it isn't. The hosting page data is the giveaway: (2,080 × 2,789 pixels, file size: 1.34 MB, MIME type: image/jpeg). That's large enough dimensions for featured picture consideration even after rotation and cropping, but at only 1.34 megabytes the data is much too compressed. I've cropped and blown it up a bit to illustrate the problem.

There's just not much to be done with this. The file is too artifacted. Shoemaker checked out the source archive in hopes their original would be better and it wasn't. Which is a shame because this could have been so much better. Lesson for the day: use a lossless format and don't compress files if they're intended for a serious purpose. I wish Wikimedia Foundation software accepted .tif format. Library of Congress does. But the University of Pennsylvania doesn't. And because of JPEG compression and artifacting, their hosting of Titus Andronicus is a dead end.

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