We all know that Shakespeare is best learned by experiencing it. Well, what does that mean? It’s not like your average student can just head out and find a production of any given play at any given time. So the next best thing is the movie, right? Movies are tricky for classrooms, who have to get the appropriate rights to show a movie like that. And they are not very conducive to working as study guides, when the student might want to bounce around the text a bit.
So what about Shakespeare In Bits, a project that attempts to fill this gap by offering a Flash animated movie of the play, integrated with the text and a browser? It’s an interesting idea. The people are computer drawings, of course, but the voice over is real people. So sit back and watch as the computer reads Romeo and Juliet to you. Each scene also comes with a synopsis of what happens, and some notes about what to look for. I like that. The typical synopsis / “modern translation” doesn’t ever attempt to break out of that line-by-line translation and just say “Look, her’es what happens, here’s what’s important, here’s what to watch out for.” This version does.
Even more (that I literally just discovered while doing this review) there are character sheets with profiles, a character relationship map (people often forget that Mercutio is related to the Prince!), and analysis of themes, imagery, language and all that other good stuff. It really is attempting to be a valid classroom companion text for the play and not just a quickie “flash version”.
Made for the classroom setting, the trial model is a little unusual (and I’ve spoken with the author, who by the way is in Ireland). You can watch a portion of Romeo and Juliet (just the first scene, really), but only for a limited time. This being a very easily copied product they’re still working out the optimal model that will allow a classroom full of students to experience Shakespeare without necessarily buying just one instance and copying it 30 times. I can’t fault them for that, business is business.
I know I’ve got some teachers out there, so you might be interested in giving it a spin. Certainly innovative in its methods from bringing Shakespeare to life without having to go license the latest movie rights.