Choose Your Own Shakespeare

Does everybody remember “Choose your own adventure” books?  You’d come to a cliffhanger page that asks, “If you try to climb down into the ravine, turn to page 17 … If you think you can jump, turn to page 23…”   It was only a matter of time before you found every combination through the book, quickly spotting places where the lines converged (so that whether you went 15->17->25->26 or you went 15->23->24->25->26 you found yourself in the same spot).  But, still, a great example of how you can put some interactivity into a book.

The digital age gets to finally kick this up a notch with projects like Coliloquoy, which tracks the actual statistics of how people go through your book and reports those number back to the author.
Unfortunately the statistics provided for example don’t make a great case as to the usefulness – showing that in a coin-flip decision point, 52% of people pick one answer while 47% pick the other.  Depending on the size of your audience, that’s barely statistically significant.  What they need to do is look at post-read analysis and say things like “Of the people who took the A->B->D….” path, only 12% went back to read it again, but users who took the A->B->Q->C… path go back and re-read 50% of the time.”  Maybe at the end (I’m not sure if they already do this), have some sort of quick “How did you like the book?” question so you can judge your results.  After all, you can go back and read the book because you loved it, or because you hated it. So counting re-reads doesn’t tell you all you need to know.
Anyway, what’s this got to do with Shakespeare?
Well, Choose Your Own Shakespeare exists in live form (link via Bardblog).  This looks to be a structured improv sort of thing — instead of yelling out an idea, you get a choice of a couple of ideas, and the most votes wins.  Probably a lot easier on the actors :).
But I’d rather talk about the text.  Imagine that you want to tell your favorite Shakespeare story.  How would you go about turning it into a choose your own adventure?  What sort of choices does Hamlet have to make, and how would they take the story in a different direction?  Could you make a bigger statement about the nature of tragedy such that all paths through the story still end up back at the same final act?
This has almost certainly been done, I just can’t find any texts to point at.
What if you made such a story in this new Coliloquoy format, where we could get back statistics on how people chose to read the story?  I wonder where people would focus their attention, which scenes they’d skip and which they’d revisit?
Personally I’d like to see a path through the story that involves Hamlet dealing with Ophelia in a different way.  I understand it, I just find it one of the most unforgiving things that Hamlet does.
In my younger days (when I had more time for such things), these are the kinds of projects I’d daydream about.  A publishing engine that allowed me to craft endless paths through a story.  I’m not talking about a bunch of coinflip choices that ultimately do little but add a couple dozen pages to the story and leave only a few endings, but really exploring the universe by looking at every major decision point and asking “What if it went the other way?”  It’s near impossible to do justice when you’re talking about Shakespeare as your source, because as soon as you go off text everybody knows it and can not truly take an unbiased trip through your story.  But it doesn’t hurt to dream.

One thought on “Choose Your Own Shakespeare

  1. I'd like to see Hamlet done that way–from the Point of View of Hamlet:

    "If you choose to do something, anything, turn to page 182. If not (sigh), just turn the page. Again."

    And page 182 is blank.


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