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Open Eye: King Lear on CD-Rom aids understanding

Multimedia opens new perspectives on the context and performance of the classics
Shakespeare, one imagines, would have loved it. After generations have studied his works primarily through reading the texts, the emphasis has come back again to the performance.

Multimedia is opening up new possibilities in the study of the arts as much as the sciences. Shakespeare, Text, Images and Ideas is one of several new CD-Roms created by the OU, drawing on a blend of academic and technical expertise to make the study of the arts a much more interactive experience.

Students using the CD-Rom can edit their own, unique, version of a scene from King Lear, learning in the process the way the same words, spoken by the same actors, may be made to carry different meaning. They can compare performances by different companies of actors, and then review the comments on each by different experts. They can make their own electronic notes as they go along.

It's all possible because multimedia incorporates text, video and audio, and gives students the freedom to select and mix these themselves. No printed text can match this.

The CD-Rom was created by software engineer Hugh Williams, plus Lizbeth Simmons of the OU's Literature Department, and producer Tony Coe from the OUPC, the BBC production centre based at the OU. Tony believes that the interactivity of multimedia gives students an insight into how drama works, and the relationship between text and performance

"If you just watch a play, or a video, you don't know why it looks the way it does. Once you see the amount of work that goes into 30 seconds of a performance, you are able to understand how every detail is deliberate."

The CD-Rom will form part of Shakespeare: Texts and Performance, a new undergraduate course due to launch in 2000. The course will also incorporate Shakespeare in Performance, TV recordings of Shakespeare performances from around the world, including a native American staging of Macbeth filmed at Apache Junction. Funding for this project has been boosted by a pounds 60,000 grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust, which supports initiatives in the areas of education, and the arts.

Multimedia also opens up new perspectives for students of the ancient Greek classics. The Homer: Poetry and Society CD-ROM enables students of the epic works Iliad and Odyssey to explore the archaeological and historical context as they are reading the literature.