EESE Review # 2

The Voyager Shakespeare:


ed. by A.R. Braunmuller,
by David S. Rodes
and Michael E. Cohen

A Review of Electronic Shakespeare Resources:
The Voyager Macbeth

Anja Beinroth/Doris Feldmann (Erlangen)

This CD-ROM really has a lot to offer. It is of an equally high standard as an academic edition of the play, and combines text and multimedia options (audio and video) to good effect. It could, however, be more user-friendly in its design. Finding out how to use it, even finding the help texts and exit command, is difficult and may discourage an inexperienced user. A good manual or at least some basic instructions supplied with the CD-ROM would be a great improvement.

Navigation Options

The material on the CD-ROM is arranged in ten sections. The page numbering starts with 1 in each section and covers the whole section, whether it is subdivided or not. Most sections have a title page, allowing the user to go straight to the subsection of interest.

There are lots of ways of "leafing through" the texts on the CD-ROM. Finding a specific place in the text is probably simpler and quicker than it would be in a book. Most sections give the option of displaying a "process gauge" (a red and white bar indicating the user's position in the section), which can be used to jump by a mouse-click to any other point in the same section. In the play section, this has additional markings showing act and scene divisions. Each page displays a page number on the bottom left of the page. Clicking on this produces a "go to" menu in which one can choose any place on the CD-ROM to jump to by selecting one of the sections and a page number in that section. The same menu is accessible from the "page" section in the tool bar by moving the cursor onto it and holding down the left mouse key or clicking the right mouse key. The CD's contents page (main menu) can also be accessed via the tool bar and can be used to jump to the first page of each section.

The "retrace" option on the tool bar can be used to return to any place on the CD-ROM which the user has looked at since opening it. All pages can be marked, and the "mark" section on the tool bar can then be used to jump between marked pages. The programme also automatically creates a bookmark when it is closed, allowing the user to go straight back to the page where he/she left the programme the next time it is used.

There are various text search options - the "find" command on the tool bar, selecting a word in the concordance, or clicking and holding the left mouse key on any word in the text (including headlines) all produce a window listing the occurrences of the selected word on the CD-ROM. Selecting a word from the text produces a menu with a range of search options (e.g. whether to search the current section or the whole CD, or whether to just find the last/next occurrence of the word in the text). The window displaying the research results can be used to jump from one occurrence to others. Progress is indicated by a change in the display's typeface from normal to bold. In the play section, it is also possible to "find a line by its number" (tool bar, option under "research tools") by entering act number.scene number.line number, while the main menu offers access to "the Characters in the Play" - an index of first lines can be displayed in a window for each one, and this can be used, for example, to follow a specific character's speeches through the play.

Command Features

Annoyingly, all the crucial tools this CD has to offer are initially hidden. The tool bar with its range of options can be used in all sections, and becomes visible by clicking on the left margin of the screen (the interlace-design column on the left side of the page). However, this only works in some sections. Once visible, the tool bar will be ready to use in the clip and picture gallery sections, for example, but an invisible tool bar cannot be accessed there.

Most tools (tool bar, search results, text commentary etc.) are displayed in windows which can be reduced to a simple bar displayed on the left of the screen (and likewise re-enlarged) by clicking on the little arrow in the top right corner; or they can be closed by clicking the symbol in the top left corner. The windows remain accessible until the user closes them, so they can be referred to repeatedly from different sections of the CD-ROM.

At the very top edge of the actual computer screen (in the plain background section of the CD-ROM page display) another important command bar is hidden. This command bar, which appears when the mouse arrow is moved to the top of the screen, offers three sections: File (giving access to the crucial command Exit Macbeth), Edit (Cut/Paste/Copy), and Macbeth. The latter can be useful, as it allows tool bar, process gauge, and annotation display to be switched on/off, and notepad, help and find to be accessed irrespective of which CD section is being used.

Annotations and Commentary

The CD-ROM offers a fully annotated main play text with scene summaries, scene commentary, and act commentary, as well as a glossary (36 entries, accessible via the tool bar), a concordance, and collation (textual note, variations in different sources, relineation information). Commentary and textual aids can be accessed from the play section via the tool bar, or in the relevant sections of the main menu (contents page). In the text, summaries and commentary are displayed in windows (compare above, Command Features). This is useful, as it enables the user to switch between them, and compare (they can only be displayed a page at a time). It is a lot more convenient than switching between play text and commentary in a book.

The annotations (footnotes) are displayed as green, underlined words in the main text, or in the case of longer notes, as small, grey daggers to the right of the text (which are, however, easy to overlook). To view the annotations, one has to click on them, and a second mouse-click makes them invisible again. Annotations can be displayed simultaneously and moved around on the page, so that all annotations for a paragraph can be displayed next to each other and to the text. A few annotations offer links to other passages in the play (activated by clicking). The great advantage over printed footnotes in a book is that here, the notes are easily accessible without cluttering the page layout.

The tool bar offers the option of displaying all annotations for any scene as one text in a window ("show detailed notes for this page" under annotations). The annotations display can also be switched off, so that the text is shown as plain black-on-grey, by clicking on annotations in the tool bar.

Note-taking Facilities

The CD-ROM offers two ways of adding notes while working with the texts, one which is linked to portions of the text (black notes) and one which is independent from them (notepad).

Black notes can be created by marking the text on its left margin by pulling the mouse from the top to the bottom of the passage while holding the left mouse button down. This is fiddly and often takes a few attempts to work. When a black marking line has been created successfully, a window of corresponding size appears on its left. This can then be used to enter up to 6000 words of commentary. The marked text can be quoted by using the "copy" and "paste" commands in the invisible command bar at the very top of the screen.

Clicking briefly on the area directly left of the text produces a menu which can be used to jump from black note to black note (anywhere on the CD-ROM), and to export black notes to a plain (ASCII) text file which can then be viewed and edited with a word processor. Black notes are not erased automatically, but can be erased by the user (by dragging the black line to the left or right with the mouse). The export file will contain all black notes currently on the CD-ROM, and will quote each portion of marked text followed by its corresponding note in the following form:

Clips p. 21, l. 8-15
**Marked Text**
      If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should have less
      turning the key. Who's there i'th'name of Beelzebub?
[The PORTER stops, turns, and looks at the wall beside him. He scurries up to it and begins to relieve his obviously very full bladder against the wall. A loud knocking punctuates this process.]
      Knock, knock. Who's there in th'other devil's name?
[The knocking becomes more insistent.]
**Note to Clips p. 21, l. 8-15**
Here's a screenplay corresponding to act 2, scene 3. Clips are shown alongside screenplay, which is annotated where the screenplay text differs from Shakespeare's text.

Independent notes can be created using notepad (accessible via the tool bar or the Macbeth menu in the hidden command bar). Opening this creates a window1 with two sections. The top section shows a list of note headings, the bottom section displays the content of the note currently selected from the list above. Notes can be added by clicking the "new" command at the bottom of the notepad window; this produces a prompt for the new note's heading (name). Text can be quoted by marking it and using copy and paste; however, since the notepad window overlaps the first three-and-a-half lines of the text window, not all of the text on the current page and none on other pages can be marked.

Having note-taking facilities is a main advantage over a book edition of Macbeth, and notes here are easier to find and compile than markings on the margins of a book. It is quite possible to start working on an essay or academic paper while using the Macbeth CD-ROM, and then to export all one's notes to a word-processor to continue the work there.

Contents: Introduction and "critical body"

The commentary and essays on the CD-ROM are written by reputable academics. There is a total of nine essays by A.R. Braunmuller in the CD's essay section, as well as relevant extracts from Holinshed's Chronicle (1587 edition). David S. Rodes contributes an introductory essay, and a multimedia introduction ("introductory remarks") which gives a nice overview of some of the things the CD-ROM has to offer, as well as explaining the editors' approach. There is also a reading list of four pages DIN A4, which is annotated and subdivided to assist the user.

Multimedia Features

The CD-ROM offers a large number of visual aids (illustrations), a full Royal Shakespeare Company audio reading (with sound effects) of the play, and a total of eight extracts from three different film adaptations of Macbeth. It uses all these to good effect. A nice bonus is the Shakespeare Karaoke, which can serve as a gentle introduction to performing Shakespearean verse.

The picture gallery mainly offers background material. Some of the pictures are also used for illustration, particularly in David S. Rodes' multimedia introduction, but not in the play - there are no links between play text and pictures, even where they illustrate scenes from the play. An exception is the character appearances chart, an overview of who appears where in the play and with how many lines; this is not in the picture gallery, but in the tool bar (under "Research Tools" and "Casting"), so that it can be referred to while studying the play. Unfortunately it does not include hypertext links, so it cannot be used to jump to specific lines in the play.

There are pictures (of Shakespeare, his actors, relevant historical Royalty, etc.) and two maps in the picture gallery. The maps are of Scotland and of Shakespeare's London. A small version of the entire map is displayed on the left of the screen, on which the user can choose the extract which is displayed in large format on the right. Places of interest are included and some lines of information given for each one at the bottom left of the screen. The pictures also each have short explanatory texts, which can be displayed by clicking on the book page symbol at the bottom left of the screen.

The Shakespeare Karaoke covers two scenes of the play with Macbeth and his Lady. The user can choose whether to listen to both parts, or listen to one and act the other. The text is displayed as Lady Macbeth in the left column, Macbeth in the right. Between them, a black dot indicates the current position of the speakers.

The audio reading underlies the play text and can be activated at any point by a simple mouse click; the reading starts with the current line of text. The reading proceeds automatically; pages turn accordingly. The reading can be interrupted at any point by another simple mouse click. Some sound effects and appropriate background noises are provided.

Video clips are shown on the left of the screen while the screenplay for them is displayed on the right, pages turning automatically. Annotations are used to point out significant differences (i.e. editorial choices) between play text and film version. All video clips are linked throughout to the text of the play. While watching a video, the user can always stop and jump to the play text by clicking "go back to the play". The process gauge can be used to start the video at any point, or the user can go to a specific page of the screenplay and start the video from there (by clicking on the text or double-clicking the video window). In the play text, a symbol on the bottom left of the page alerts the user that a corresponding video may be viewed. Clicking on this produces a prompt offering a choice of whether to watch the video now (and a choice of which when there are two) or whether to go back to the text. The video clips can also be accessed via the main menu (contents page).


To conclude, the general potential of computerized Shakespeare material will augment printed Shakespeare resources and alter traditional approaches to Shakespeare's texts.

The outstanding features of Shakespeare material on the Internet and on CD-ROM are the amplitude and the diversity of the material which can be included, the rapidity of its retrieval, and the flexibility of its arrangement. In linking passages of a written text with graphics, video, sound and music, the concept of hypermedia relates closely to recent developments in Shakespeare studies: It offers intriguing possibilites for pursuing connections between Shakespeare's texts and larger semiotic contexts and cultural spaces. Moreover, the new electronic technology allows Shakespeareans to simulate the theatrical instability and the performative dynamics of Shakespeare's plays.

Whether user control and the continuous linking and restructuring of Shakespeare material will actually disturb or even subvert the fixed hierarchies of status, represented by the cultural authorities of William Shakespeare as 'the' author, of much-acclaimed Shakespeare editors, of well-defined, printed Shakespeare texts, and best-selling Shakespeare hand-/casebooks, remains an open question.

1 Unlike all the other windows in Macbeth; this is a separate programme rather than an internal window. It cannot be reduced to a tool bar which remains accessible like the other windows, nor can its position on the screen be changed.

Part II: Shakespearean Internet Resources