Bard's comedy presentation

20th September 1996 at 01:00
Sue Lambert on the latest Shakespeare offering from the Beeb. A Midsummer Night's Dream CD-Rom for Windows Multimedia PCs (PC486SX or better with Windows 3.1 or 95 and 4 megabytes of free memory, 8 megabytes recommended), Pounds 75. (Apple Macintosh version in September HarperCollins: 0181 741 7070. Age range: 11-plus

The third play to be released in the "BBC Shakespeare on CD-Rom" series is A Midsummer Night's Dream, produced by HarperCollins and BBC Education. It adopts the same visually exciting and user-friendly format as the first two CD-Roms in the series, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.

The opening screen displays the, by now, familiar hexagon layout that points students to a choice of options to explore : Play; Plot; Themes; Background; Performance; Characters and Language. The central and most important option is the play itself; clicking on this will start a full audio performance of the text, illustrated by colourful stills from the BBC production and accompanied by the full text .

The visual time-line on the screen shows where you are on the audio track and also shows you at which points in the play you can access selected video extracts. Although these are only visible on a small section of the screen, they are nevertheless effective in bringing the text to life.

Study notes and explanation of vocabulary can be accessed through the text. This function alone does a great deal to bring understanding to students. Regular access could work wonders.

Other valuable choices can be accessed either from the hexagon on the introductory screen or from a tool bar at the bottom of the screen. By selecting Plot, students are offered three different summaries. The first is a simple overview, then there are more detailed scene summaries and finally an interesting plot line.

Clicking on the Themes option will provide information supported by either sound archive material or video footage of authorities on the subject; for example, the theme of Love and Marriage is discussed by Bill Alexander and Peter Brook.

The Background option provides a range of critical opinions for the more motivated student. Critical works ranging from Shakespeare's day to the present are easily accessed. Information on the life and times of Shakespeare is provided in detail, as well as a history of the theatre.

The remaining sections on Character, Language, and Performance all provide a wealth of information. The language section explains technical terms in poetry as well as providing comments on the different types of language within the play. The material is varied and attractive, containing something for all students.

By using the tools, students can research the text in a number of ways. You can also search for any word in the text of the play.

The accompanying teachers' notes are useful, providing excellent guidelines for ways of organising the use of a CD-Rom, with a whole group and for a range of abilities. This CD-Rom is desirable for all secondary English departments studying the play. The strengths are many: ease of use; gorgeous graphics; it has imagination.

A Midsummer Night's Dream provides an excellent audio version of the text with beautiful graphics and a great deal of valuable background material - a clever and effective use of multimedia technology. There is much here to stimulate students and teachers, and its at a reasonable price.

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