Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 136. Friday, 17 May 1991.
Date: Thu, 16 May 91 16:38:32 PDT
From: Michael Best <
Subject: A computer program for helping teachers teach Shakespeare
This is a probably immodest response to Steve Urkowitz' request for
ways of helping teachers teach Shakespeare. I have recently completed
a computer program intended to supplement the teaching of
Shakespeare: *Shakespeare's Life and Times* (catchy title), published
PO Box 1922
130 Cremona Drive
Santa Barbara CA 93116-1922
It's a HyperCard (2.0) program, and runs on any Macintosh from the Mac
Plus on, so long as it has a hard drive (it takes up about 5.2
megabytes). The program is designed to allow students to guide
themselves as they explore the background to Shakespeare's life and
works. It is a supplement to the teaching of Shakespeare, rather than
an attempt to teach his works directly -- although there are many
references to the plays, there is no extensive treatment of the texts
themselves. It is not intended to be a critical discussion of
Shakespeare; it is an introduction to what we know of his life, the
stage his plays were first acted on, and the various influences --
social, political, intellectual, and literary -- that lie behind the
words on the page. *Shakespeare's Life and Times* uses the particular
strengths of the computer in three ways:
- The graphic interface of HyperCard allows each screen (each
"card") to offer a visual image to accompany the text. In almost
every case the graphic is taken from Renaissance sources
(especially effective in black and white), with the result that
a view of that world is cumulatively impressed on the user.
Sometimes the graphic is purely decorative, but most often it is
directly illustrative of the subject -- the stage, the dress of the
time, the schematic Renaissance view of the world and the
universe, and so on. There are over 500 separate graphic images.
- The program uses extensive interconnecting of ideas and topics
both through buttons and hypertext links. Thus a student may start
looking at Shakespeare's life, but explore laterally in the
social or intellectual background--and decide to stay there if it
is more interesting.
- The initial surface of each card is a simple, and fairly
general, statement, in a large typestyle. Most cards, however,
allow the student who is interested in the topic to click on
buttons, or on text keyed with a degree sign, in order to open
up further text fields with more detailed information. Thus the
student can choose the level of study as well as the topic. The
deepest level offers links to the "Reference" section of the
program, where there is an extensive Bibliography for further
reading. Thus the level of student can vary from senior High
School to introductory University.
The program consists of nine interlinked modules (stacks). There is an
Introduction, which also serves as on-line "help," and seven stacks
dealing with different areas: Shakespeare's life; the Elizabethan
stage (including staging, the acting companies, and so on); the
social background (country, city, court life, the role of women); the
political and historical background (including a section on the
history of the history plays); the intellectual background (the
Medieval world view, Renaissance new knowledge, religion); the
literary background, concentrating on earlier and contemporary drama;
and there is a reference section, with a detailed chronology, maps,
and a bibliography (which I want to work on further for version 2 --
all suggestions gratefully received). Throughout there is an attempt
to use illustrative passages not only from Shakespeare but from many
other contemporary sources.
There is one further module that looks in some detail at issues in
*Hamlet* that the program can provide historical material on: the
Ghost, revenge, staging, incest, and so on. In version 2 I plan to
extend this part of the program to include more of the plays studied
at an introductory level.
There is no testing module to go with the program (though it would not
be difficult to design one), because it is my belief that it can best
be used as a voluntary addition to the study of Shakespeare. In any
case, the amount of information in the various modules is so
extensive that no student could be expected to answer all the
questions one could ask. Rather, what the program does is to monitor
the actual time each user spends exploring.
I have tried to include some treatment of most of the main issues that
arise in the plays: the Medieval/Renaissance concept of order, for
example, gets plenty of space (it lends itself particularly well to
graphic illustration), but there are counterbalancing sections in the
historical background that show how the concept was under stress in
the practical world, and I have included a good deal of information
about the new ways of thinking that were challenging and undermining
the sense of a wholly ordered and consistent micro/macrocosm.
I have also tried to include information about some rather neglected
subjects in history and literature -- notably women's roles
(discussed at length in the social background) and women's writing.
Topics of this kind are especially relevant to a study of the
comedies, whereas the sections on history, politics, religion, and
order are particularly relevant to the histories and tragedies.
I'm especially anxious to have the program used by Shakespeare
specialists and teachers, because I'm sure that there is a great deal
to improve -- it has pretentions to the encyclopedic, but I'm no
encyclopedist. I can send a demo disk if you are interested and send
me one to copy it onto (Department of English, University of
Victoria, Victoria B.C. V8W 3P4, Canada).