Do Facts Matter on a CD-ROM?
Ragen, Brian Abel, Papers on Language & Literature
Was Shakespeare's Macbeth set in the Falkland Islands? Or New Zealand? Or perhaps Australia? Did Shakespeare go to a University in Hong Kong? Did he shop at a Tesco's market? The editors at Columbia University Press may think so. At least, they have put their press's name on a CD-ROM (William Shakespeare's Macbeth, produced by James H. Bride, II; text edited by Gary Taylor) that makes all those connections, and more.
This CD-ROM's slick interface includes a coat of arms for every scene in the play. The user clicks on the coat of arms to see the text of the scene, along with glosses, video commentaries, summaries, etc. Users who recognize the arms will also see surprising connections made between each part of Macbeth and some person, country, or corporation. The witches on the heath are evidently out shopping to begin with, since they first appear with the arms of Richs Department Store of Atlanta, Georgia, but by the time they cry, "All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter," they have joined the Swiss Guard: that scene is marked with the arms Pope Pius XII (1939-58). Later in the play, there is a strong flavor of the South Seas: Lady Macbeth first appears with the arms of Australia, while the murder of Banquo is perpetrated under the arms of a New Zealander named Culham (there is a Kiwi in his crest), and Malcolm's army drops the boughs from Birnam Wood behind the banner the present Queen uses when she visits Aukland.
The arms linked to other scenes provide interesting interpretive keys to the action. Is Banquo's ghost musical? He appears with the arms of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Are Lady McDuff and her son murdered while trying to escape to the Orient, or just on the way to college? I suppose the arms of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which mark that scene, might justify either interpretation. Is the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth smoking when she says, "Out, damned spot!"?: her mad scene is linked to the arms of Japan Tobacco, Ltd. Other scenes are marked with the arms of the College of Ophthalmologists (the march toward Birnam Wood), of Tesco Stores ("Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?"), and of the Falkland Islands (Macbeth kills young Siward). The Scottish play, it turns out, is even more universal in its significance than critics had thought.
Several other scenes are marked with the Royal Arms--as used by George I, or by Queen Anne, or by Queen Victoria and her successors. The ad for the companion CD-ROM on Romeo and Juliet shows the arms of Pope John XXIII and Pope Pius XII, though they were a Roncalli and a Pacelli, not a Montague and a Capulet. The movies accompanying the text also present some heraldic oddities: when the victorious Malcolm declares, "My Thanes and kinsmen, / Henceforth be Earls," there are shots of several coats of arms, including those of the King of France and the King of Spain--big promotions for a thane.
Few of the users of this CD-ROM may recognize all the arms. That very fact makes it all the more important for the editors to see to it that the connections are not absurd, to gloss the arms used as thoroughly as the Jacobean English. (Though one might also quarrel with some of the glosses that appear when the cursor moves over the text.) Shakespeare, of course, cared deeply about heraldry. He sought arms himself, and they were granted to him. The one appropriate use of heraldry in Columbia's disc is Shakespeare's own arms, though they are drawn so badly that one can hardly recognize the characteristically punning Shakespearean device--a spear. References to heraldry appear in many of the plays and have been the subject of many articles and at least one book (C.W. Scott-Giles's Shakespeare's Heraldry [London: Dent, 1950]). The sizeable team that put this CD-ROM together clearly did not care about the fact that arms mean something. The work as a whole shows much more concern for glitzy presentation than for getting the facts right. …