Oxford University's Bodleian Library has linked up with its American counterparts to create an online archive of Shakespeare's earliest printed editions - known as 'Quartos'.

The Bodleian, which has 55 Shakespeare Quartos, has agreed to work with the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, to create the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, a freely-accessible digital collection.

The initiative is one of five transatlantic collaborations between British and US institutions.

Richard Ovenden, keeper of special collections at the Bodleian, said: "Working with the Folger Shakespeare Library, and our other partners, will create a significant online resource for scholars, at all levels."

The one-year project begins next month, and will reunite all 75 pre-1641 Quarto editions of Shakespeare's plays into a single online collection.

The project's website will feature high-resolution reproductions and full-text of surviving Shakespeare Quartos and it should be available in about three months.

In the absence of surviving manuscripts, the Quartos offer the closest known evidence of what Shakespeare might actually have written, and what appeared on the early modern English stage.