Are Shakespeare multimedia packages the hottest thing to galvanise secondary English lessons or just the baseless fabric of a vision? Jack Kenny and Sue Lambert enjoy new takes on the old master.
The first in the BBC Shakespeare CD-Rom series jointly produced by Attica Cybernetics, HarperCollins publishers and BBC Education, Romeo and Juliet is a sublime package. (Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream are due for the Multimedia PC soon, with Mac versions to follow.) This CD-Rom uses music to introduce a choice of options from an attractive hexagon menu. Users are offered the following choices: play; plot; performance; themes; language; characters; background. Clicking on the main "play" option in the centre of the hexagon takes you into a BBC audio production with the full text to accompany it. Key words are highlighted and on clicking a glossary definition appears.
As you progress through the audio version of the play, video options appear which enable you to see clips from the BBC production. Even when the highly useful video option is not available, the play is illustrated by stills from the production, which really enhance the text. The whole package uses rich, evocative backdrops which draw students into Romeo and Juliet's world.
The other options from the original hexagon can also be accessed from a tool bar at the bottom of the screen, so you can change course to delve into the play's themes, with an excellent option for finding key quotations on, for example, family, fate, death, time or love.
Alternatively, you could follow up an examination of Shakespeare's language, helped along by Germaine Greer's commentary on video. When you have exhausted these options try the sound archives to hear Gielgud on his performance of Romeo, or Peggy Ashcroft on playing Juliet to two different Romeos. You could explore a particular character in depth, choosing from the characters tool bar. "Plot" offers useful summaries of scenes, and "Background" includes both past and contemporary reports on the play and its effects.
Another appealing facility is the Life of Shakespeare file, which would be useful for the study of any of his plays or which could support drama or theatre studies. In this section users have the opportunity to select background on the theatre, including Robert Harwood on the history of the theatre. Material on Shakespeare's early life is available, including interesting facts on the theatres in Elizabethan London.
The variety of this package is terrific. The information is presented in a tempting way which would win over even the most resistant pupil. It is an ideal CD-Rom to explore with a secondary class, and could be used with small groups or for individual study, lending itself to learning support work at either end of the ability range. For teachers not familiar with CD-Rom in the classroom, the teachers' notes for this package are useful.
This is a highly attractive, thoughtfully produced package which should earn itself a place in all CD-Rom libraries.