Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 38. Monday, 17 Feb 1992.
Date: Sun, 16 Feb 92 13:26 GMT
From: Vinton G. Cerf <
Subject: Shakespeare Captioning Project
[Ed. Note: The following announcement is culled from personal
correspondence with the newest member of SHAKSPER, Vint Cerf.
(He is also our first member from MCI Mail). -- k.s.]
Here is a summary of the Shakespeare Captioning Project
which we are carrying out under the auspices of the
Folger Shakespeare Library. As you can see, we are
interested in finding sources to support this work and
very interested in receiving letters from potential
beneficiaries of the work which we would offer as
evidence that a significant need exists to have such
closed captioned video tapes available.
Vint and Sigrid Cerf
Sigrid and Vinton Cerf
3614 Camelot Drive
Annandale, VA 22003
H (703) 573-7125 (voice)
H (703) 573-3104 (TDD)
H (703) 560-4004 (FAX)
O (703) 620-8990 (voice)
There are over two million profoundly deaf people in the
United States and possibly as many as twenty million hearing-
impaired viewers who have never been able to hear well enough to
fully enjoy a Shakespeare performance. This handicap is a double
one: the lack of opportunity to hear performed Shakespeare often
leads to lack of interest in the written plays as well.
What must today's deaf or hard-of-hearing person do to enjoy
a Shakespeare play? She must be as familiar with the play as she
possibly can be. She will read the play and any corresponding
material that can enhance her understanding of it. She may watch
an uncaptioned videotape of the play in question, if available,
several times to familiarize herself with the physical and visual
cues. She'll try, with varying degrees of success, to follow the
dialogue with a copy of the play in hand.
If she is determined to attend a live performance, she faces
another challenge. She may have to see the live play more than
once, because a live performance features original movements with
which she is not familiar; a turned back, for instance, or rapid
fire dialogue passed from one player to another, can be an almost
insurmountable challenge for the lip reader. If she knows sign
language and is lucky enough to see an interpreted performance,
her attention will be somewhat distracted by trying to
concentrate on both performers and the interpreter. Further, a
great deal of lyric quality of the poetry will be lost in the
translation. To enjoy a Shakespeare play the way normal hearing
people do, she would literally have to memorize the whole play,
and even that would be almost impossible, because some versions,
such as Olivier's Henry V, do not strictly follow the written
The demographics of the United States are changing. We have
an aging population and, as is well-known, older people tend to
encounter more difficulty with hearing as they age.
Unfortunately, this older population, gradually losing the
ability to hear late in life, is even less likely to be able to
speech read (lipread) Shakespeare performances than the long-time
deaf and hard-of-hearing population.
At the same time, the technology of television captioning
has matured. Decoder chips must be in ALL US sets after 1993, making
television captioning a mass medium, not only for viewers with
hearing problems but also for those in need of language
assistance. There is already evidence that use of captions
improves understanding for the growing part of the US population
for which English is a second language.
To bring Shakespeare within reach of these groups, we are
working towards video captioning of all available Shakespeare
plays. This effort is being conducted through the Folger
Shakespeare Library which provides access to its extensive
information on Shakespeare's works; acts as a central
coordinating point for grant and funding applications; assists in
the identification of rightsholders; and, together with
Shakespeare Theatre, advises on the selection of candidate videos
to be captioned.
This project is in progress with the assistance and
sponsorship of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
The activity consists of several parts:
1. identification of films and videos of Shakespeare plays
which may be suitable for captioning
2. solicitation of resources to carry out the captioning
3. identification of rights holders and gaining permission
4. arranging for captioning of selected videos and films
5. working towards distribution of the captioned product
to libraries and other appropriate institutions which
can make the works accessible to the deaf and hard-of-
hearing public, and others who can benefit from close
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, through a project conducted by
the British Broadcasting Corporation and Time-Life, all thirty-
seven of Shakespeare's plays were filmed and, subsequently,
transferred to video cassettes. A few of them have been
captioned. The distributor, Ambrose Video Productions, has been
contacted to seek permission to caption the approximately thirty
plays which have not had this treatment. Copyrights to other
productions are under investigation.
A grant application is being prepared for consideration by the
National Endowment for the Humanities, to pay for part of the
estimated $500,000 cost of captioning the BBC/Time Life series,
in addition to other highly-regarded film/video performances of
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Funding, in-kind donation of captioning services, and assistance
in the clearance of rights are being sought. Interested parties
should contact Mrs. Sigrid Cerf at the address shown in the
letterhead. Any donations should be made out to the Folger
Shakespeare Library, with an indication that funds are to be
applied to the Shakespeare Captioning Project, and sent to:
The Folger Shakespeare Library
301 East Capitol Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003
Attn: Mr. Tom McCance
Shakespeare Captioning Project
Letters expressing support for this project also would be much
appreciated, along with permission to share them with potential
sources of funding as evidence of public interest in the effort.
Naturally, volunteers able to assist with rights clearance and
production of captioned versions will be welcomed!