CD-ROM Takes `Shake' out of Shakespeare for Students: Disc Adds Commentary, Clarifies Obscure Passages

By Innerst, Carol | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 28, 1997 | Go to article overview

CD-ROM Takes `Shake' out of Shakespeare for Students: Disc Adds Commentary, Clarifies Obscure Passages


Innerst, Carol, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


During his 30 years as a high school English teacher in Dedham, Mass., James H. Bride II saw students quiver and quake at the mere mention of Shakespeare.

Confronted with such lines as "A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye" (Horatio in "Hamlet"), students weaned on action movies and music videos developed full-blown cases of a disease he labeled "Fear of Shakespeare."

Then he got an idea for a cure.

What could be better than multimedia, he thought, to conquer student fears and phobias and to make accessible to the MTV generation the excitement that has always been central to Shakespeare?

Acting on his inspiration, Mr. Bride gave up tenure for the terror of entrepreneurship. He formed Bride Media International Inc. and brought the Bard into the brave new digital age.

Working with internationally known Shakespeare expert Gary Taylor, who compiled the digital text, he developed "Romeo and Juliet on CD-ROM" and "Macbeth on CD-ROM." They became available for classroom use in late March.

"It takes the `shake' out of Shakespeare," said Mr. Bride, who was in Washington earlier this spring for the annual conference of the Shakespeare Association of America.

The discs, which contain the full text of the plays, bridge the gap between text and performance. At the click of a mouse, students can jump from the text of the play to an original filmed performance of a key scene.

Shot on location in Scotland and Italy, the discs feature professional actors in period costumes accompanied by originally composed music. Another click takes students to a video of commentary from scholars on themes of the play.

"It may not be true for all literary text that CD-ROM will replace books, but Shakespeare and playwrights are different," Mr. Taylor said. "Their work was never meant to be read in a book. What CD-ROM gives you is something closer to what the author intended, an experience that's not just verbal but aural and visual."

"Shakespeare depended on sound effects," he said. "It makes it all seem more real and raises the adrenalin level because it engages as many of our senses as possible. This is a case where technology can actually do something for the humanities."

For the "hard-to-get stuff," words and passages in the text that are archaic or unfamiliar are clarified instantaneously with a pass of the cursor over the blue highlighted text to see its modern equivalent in red.

Click on the appropriate icon to get a paraphrase of any scene or a summary of the entire play in colloquial English.

"But you have to access the text first, before you can get to the paraphrase," Mr. Bride said.

Thus, Macbeth's soliloquy in Act II, Scene I must first be viewed as:

"Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still."

Then students whose initial reaction is "Huh?" can call up the red version and read:

"Is this a dagger which I see before me?

"Come here, let me hold you. I can't grab you, but I can see you."

The modern translation of an archaic but lyrical construction may grate on some ears, but Celia R. Daileader, a professor at University of Alabama who teaches a survey course for sophomores, defends it.

"There's no reason why Shakespeare's English should be considered more correct than modern English," Miss Daileader said. …

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