Bard company

Peter Hollindale and Noel Cassidy looks at some of the latest resources designed to offer a fresh approach to teaching the work of the world's most famous playwright


BILINGUAL SHAKESPEARE: a practical approach for teachers by Alex Fellowes Trentham Books Price: pound;13.95

"Ownership", "empowerment" and "entitlement" are buzz-words and they duly appear in this short, practical handbook. Alex Fellowes has many years of teaching experience with bilingual students and he gives chapter and verse for his project of empowering south Asian children, whose first languages are Urdu and Panjabi, to enjoy and "possess" Shakespeare.

This may seem a rashly ambitious goal. In fact, Fellowes records the scepticism of some colleagues, who questioned its relevance for any present-day children, let alone those from different cultures. The detailed examples he gives are an impressive reply to the doubters, as is his evident commitment and enthusiasm, which are plainly as important as his skills.

The key to the book is his argument that "it may be that bilingual pupils, as skilled code-switchers, rise to the challenge of Shakespeare's dense and complex language better than most monolingual pupils." There is force in that argument, borne out by a remarkable scripted illustration of work in English and Panjabi on (of all plays) As You Like It.

Fellowes' approach depends on the full repertoire of practical drama teaching, including mime, hot-seating, tableaux and improvisation, where bilingual classes can share the other languages of drama. Clearly this works well, but the book's most striking recorded success is not from a play at all, but a Year 8 class's admirable work on Shakespeare's Sonnet 91, "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill". This, like the book as a whole, shows Fellowes' bold enterprise to be both practicable and rewarding. PH

SHAKESPEARE by Peter Chrisp Dorling Kindersley (Eyewitness Guides) Price: pound;9.99

This eye-catching introduction to Shakespeare and his world is a victory of design over content and of pictures over text. Visually it is a very attractive book. Around 30 double-page spreads cover topics from history ("England at War"), theatre ("Building the Globe"), and Shakespeare's work ("The Famous Tragedies").

This last is typical of the enterprise's strengths and weaknesses. A compelling central image of Hamlet and Laertes in their fatal duel dominates the space. Around it are scattered little pictures and perfunctory captions, often with catchy alliterative two-word headings. Great works such as Romeo and Juliet ("Family Feud") and King Lear ("Foolish Father") are summed up in 40 words and tucked into corners, out of reach of the swords.

There are many truly beautiful images and photographs which illuminate the times, notably a sumptuous Catholic crucifix, as well as many pointless ones.

The snippets of information are often so compressed as to be downright misleading, both on history (we are told that Essex and Raleigh "eventually share the same fate - they were beheaded as traitors") and on the plays (Hermione in A Winter's Tale "fakes her own death"). As a pictorial stimulus to dip into Shakespeare's world the book is inviting, but as an information book it is too fragmentary and haphazard to be useful. PH

MACBETH ON FILM VIDEO AND CD-ROM. British Film Institute. Price: pound;27.99. Macbeth CD-Rom. 4 Learning. Price: pound;47. Available in Mac and Windows formats

Even more than watching a film of a production of a play like Macbeth, the most beneficial way of using videos in the classroom is to select and compare versions of the same scene from different productions. This requires a number of tapes and repeated use of the remote control as you search for the right section in front of your impatient class. In an ideal world, we would edit a selection ourselves onto one tape and now the British Film Institute has done it for us.

The chosen versions are Trevor Nunn's dark theatrical RSC production of 1978 with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, Orson Welles' melodramatic chiaroscuro 1948 film and the modern urban guerrilla version directed in 1998 by Michael Bogdanov for Channel 4. They make for fascinating comparisons.

The RSC production makes few concessions to film and is a faithful recreation of the stage production, stark and simple. The Welles has a theatrical setting, but with its harsh lighting, camera techniques and angles, it makes full use of the medium. Meanwhile, the crisply-cut Bogdanov film makes exciting use of its decaying urban setting.

The clips are taken from all acts of the play, with some striking choices. A DVD would be much easier to navigate than a video, but would probably make the package significantly more expensive.

The CD contains 27 worksheets in pdf format, which can be navigated using your web browser or individually selected. The tasks ask students to consider the play carefully, consider Shakespeare's and other theatrical staging and think very critically about film technique.

The same Bogdanov film is the centrepiece of the 4 Learning CD-Rom, which can be watched in its entirety on the computer screen. The screen also gives a menu divided by character and theme, allowing exploration of the play linked to Shakespeare's text and specific scenes from the film.

The commentary is seldom profound, but is solid and sensible, with terms explained via a pop-up glossary. It is well-organised and allows students to follow ideas, picking up the references in the play text and seeing the extracts performed in this stylish and accessible production.

The interface is attractive and easily used, and the combination of script, commentary and production is a winning one. The only problem I found was that the programme wouldn't run from the CD itself, as the notes suggested, but had to be installed on the hard disk. While this takes up a lot of disk space, most schools would want to install it on a central server anyway.

If you are a little jaded with teaching Macbeth, these resources offer fresh material for the teacher as well as the student. NC

INTERFACT SHAKESPEARE MACBETH (book and CD-Rom). Two-Can Publishing. Price: pound;14.99. Interfact Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet (book and CD-Rom). Two-Can Publishing. Price: pound;14.99. CD-Roms are compatible with Mac and PC

With the accent firmly on accessibility, students approaching these books are immediately invited to "hack off Macbeth's head" and "help Romeo into Juliet's arms". The packaging claims a book, a CD-Rom and a website that work together and is aimed at key stage 3 pupils. The books, which are spiral-bound for easy use, include the full script of the play, clearly laid out but unannotated apart from brief scene summaries. Placed first in each book, however, is a prose retelling of the story, with sections linked to particular scenes. These versions are clearly told, incorporating quotations from the play and could be usefully used to explore with pupils the key differences between dramatic and prose story telling.

It is the CDs that separate these editions from other student Shakespeare texts. They visualise the plays in a cartoonish way - Romeo is a skateboarding dude while Lady Macbeth could easily be mistaken for Cruella deVille.

The characterisation of Romeo and Juliet is particularly American, perhaps inspired by the Baz Luhrmann film. Offered as an interactive learning tool, the CDs are disappointing. In "Meet the Characters", the roles within the play are described in the most basic way, while the timeline runs through the scenes of the play with very brief summaries, which at least give a page reference to find the scene in the book.

The "games" are fairly simple and have their limitations, but could be useful in helping some pupils familiarise themselves with the plays. There is a quiz about the action of the play, and one that aids recognition of key quotations. "Make a Scene" requires recall of which characters, props and sound effects are significant in various scenes. In the "Glossary Game", pupils have to match Shakespearean words and phrases with their modern equivalents.

The CD links to a dedicated website, which in turn gives users a set of links to various Shakespeare sites. These include some of the best on the net, but it is a shame that no real guidance is given to their use. One of the most challenging aspects of the internet for pupils is how to use it productively. These links will take pupils to the sites, then leave them on their own. It will be up to their teachers to construct a productive way of using the material. NC

Noel Cassidy teaches English at St Albans School, Hertfordshire Peter Hollindale is an author and critic

Useful - This is a comprehensive site that covers editions of the plays, criticism, facsimiles, Elizabethan context and biography. It also links to pretty well every other site, with a quick explanation of what each offers.For easiest access to the plays online, try works.html - The works are clearly listed and quickly retrieved.For background, the Reading University Globe site is magnificent, offering a guide to the research done in the creation of the new Globe and therefore giving an excellent view of Shakespeare's performance conditions. new Globe's site is also worth a visit: www. shakespeares-globe. org NC

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