Computers & Texts No. 13
Table of Contents
December 1996

Review: The BookWorm Student Library

Romeo & Juliet

Geoff Ridden
School of Cultural Studies
King Alfred's Collge Winchester

Shakespeare is central to our culture, our view of the literary canon, to the British way of life, as he sits on T-shirts, chocolate, beer mats, notelets, quiz-books and address-books. A recent advertisement for Master's level work at a British university makes this clear. The shiny head sits in the centre of the page, even though the courses offered in the MA programme advertised by this university involve Shakespeare only to the extent that one of his plays is included in one module of one option.

It is a sign of the maturity of each new medium that it can 'deal with' Shakespeare. As we move from theatre to cinema, to radio, to television, we move from the large to the small, from the mass to the personal, and at each stage there is a rite of passage through which the medium must go‹it must 'handle' Shakespeare. This has been no less the case for multimedia CD-ROMs. Romeo and Juliet on CD-ROM

Romeo and Juliet is one of the cornerstones of the National Curriculum for schools in England and Wales. Within the National Curriculum for English, Shakespeare is the only required author, the only writer whose works must be studied, and the small range of his plays from which teachers make their choice includes Romeo & Juliet, along with A Midsummer Night's Dream and Julius Caesar. Thus the National Curriculum asserts in these plays the supremacy of family, social class and state power.

One of my quibbles with the Romeo and Juliet CD-ROM developed by Attica Cybernetics (and reviewed in Computers & Texts 9) is the date of its material. Its video clips are taken from the 1978 BBC programme All the World's a Stage, written and produced by Ronald Harwood, the BBC production of the play (1978), a Germaine Greer programme in the series Shakespeare in Context (1978) which preceded screenings of the BBC Shakespeare, and a Robert MacNeil programme, The Story of English (1986). When one examines these credits (which are not there, on screen while the program is running) this CD-ROM starts to look like a re-packaging of some rather elderly video material, and there is no attempt to update this material by, for example, explaining that the Globe Theatre is now open for performances or that its founder is dead.

In contrast, some of the written material has a much more modern feel, especially in the section on critical opinions. My difficulty here is the absence of consistent referencing for these quotations‹ some-times titles and dates are cited and sometimes not. I do not need a video clip of an actor reading Robert Greene's lines on Shakespeare, especially as he gets them wrong (a glaring error when the text sits on the screen alongside of the video), and I wonder how useful in the future the lengthy, undated quotation from The Guardian on the Kingsmead Primary School controversy over Romeo & Juliet will prove to be: I suspect there are users even now to whom this incident means nothing, and I do not think it will be clear to them that what was at issue was not a performance of Shakespeare's play but of a ballet. Bookworm Edition

The CD-ROM caused me to reflect on what additional features might make this a better program. Applications used by students should be capable of being personalised and might even include explicit levels of difficulties (similar to those found in computer games). What I was looking for was a version of this program which was active rather than passive, created rather than consumed. I was interested in a program which would allow the user to create rather than consume, and I found it at PC World for less than £10: the BookWorm Romeo & Juliet. For this price you buy a copy of the Signet edition of the play, which retails at £2.99, plus a CD-ROM which effectively cost £7. This disc contains a full text of the play, plus hypertext notes, and a full glossary. You also get a reasonable dictionary, and a glossary of literary terms. You get pictures and background information on staging, Shakespeare's life, acting, music (extracts from Prokofiev) and critical opinions, which are well-referenced and up-to-date.

You get a wonderful Help section, which takes you through the potential of the program and, best of all, you can write to it yourself: this is an authoring package. At the simplest level, you can highlight sections of the text in any one of a range of marker-pen colours, and then pull together all the passages marked in any individual colour. Better still, you can add to the annotations provided on the CD, either in writing, in sound, in picture or in video, subject only to the constraints of what you can fit on to your own student-disk. The package is designed to be customised, and there is the possibility of dialogue between student and teacher, because each can record her/his own comments on a separate disc. There is a single editorial hand at work on the CD-ROM itself, which has produced a single, consistent platform which can tailored in whatever way is appropriate: it allows the possibility of a wide range of navigation and the full integration of the background materials with the text. In effect the BookWorm Romeo and Juliet allows for the creation of disk-based multimedia essays.

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

Computers & Texts 13 (1996), 20. Not to be republished in any form without the author's permission.

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