The tale of Hamlet... as told by an idiot?

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Alas, poor textbooks, we knew them well.

But now pupils struggling to understand literature set texts have been told: get thee to a computer screen.

A new, simplified version of Hamlet has been published - as an illustrated slideshow presentation for Microsoft PowerPoint.

The study guide of 200 slides recount "an exciting story about how a young college student deals with a family crisis". In an early slide, the student introduces himself: "Hi. I'm Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Welcome to the story of my life."

The slides then tell the story, through cartoon-like illustrations and simple captions: "My mother married my uncle"; "my mother upset me"; "I upset my girlfriend"; "I lost my girlfriend".

Robin Behar, president of the US firm that produced the guide, said that there was method in his madness. "Nowadays, most young people relate to visuals, rather than text," he said. "I wanted to summarise the essentials of the play in a visual, user-friendly manner. Once that barrier has been broken, then students can concentrate on the iambic pentameter."

But, for many English teachers, the reduction of Shakespeare's best-known work to cartoon images shows that something is rotten in the state of education.

Anne Fairhall, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "This isn't Shakespeare, it's entertainment. Nowadays, everyone is trying to use new technology in the best possible way. But it has to address teachers' learning objectives."

Simon Gibbons, of the London Association for Teaching of English, said:

"The language is simplified to the point of not meaning very much. It's interesting as an exercise in adaptation, but not as a guide to Hamlet."

But Susan Kirk, head of English at Brays Grove comprehensive in Essex, was more positive: "Shakespeare created visual images for the stage," she said.

"This is just another form of visual image."

ICT subject focus, teacher magazine 22

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