While my sophomores read Macbeth aloud in class, the girl acting out Macbeth’s role read this line:
She stopped and looked up at me. “Huh?” The rest of the class quickly verbalized their confusion:
“What does that mean, Ms. Doyle?”
“Is he talking about reincarnation or something?”
Luckily, I was there to explain that “multitudinous” simply means “many,” and that “incarnadine” is an archaic adjective meaning “pink” — thus, Macbeth is saying there is enough blood on his hands to turn the oceans from green to pink to red. The students looked at me in awe, as if I had just translated Swahili for them. (What can I say, it’s why they paid me the big bucks.)
Let’s face it, Shakespeare can be tough. At home, students have to fend for themselves when trying to decipher Shakespeare, and as a teacher I could always expect to be inundated with questions from students about what they had read for homework the following day in class.
MindConnex is helping making the process of reading Shakespeare easier and more enjoyable for students. Last week, they announced the launch of the fifth installment of their “Shakespeare In Bits” series with the release of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare In Bits is a multimedia resource that makes the Bard’s plays interactive, dividing them into more-easily digestible “bits” for students to read. Explore their Romeo and Juliet demo here.
Each Shakespeare In Bits play includes the full, unabridged text of the original play — you can place the cursor over an archaic word or phrase in a line, and the text will change color as a modern translation appears. Each play is fully voiced and animated and contains character bios, relationship maps, and an interactive cast list. Notes and analyses are provided that explain literary concepts such as figurative language, symbols and motifs, themes, and imagery.
Shakespeare In Bits titles include: Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and now, Julius Caesar. The software is available on iPad, iPhone, PC, Mac, and online via school subscriptions. Shakespeare In Bits has won multiple Reader’s Choice Awards for their fun and interactive study guides, and MindConnex is currently finalizing plans for other Shakespeare In Bits titles.
Some teachers argue that this technology will encourage laziness in reading, and an overall decline in critical thinking — with the notes and modern translations a click away, students don’t have to think at all about what “incarnadine” could possibly mean. They don’t need to find out this information for themselves because it’s all right there.
But in my experience, there are a lot of high school students who could care less about the Bard. They don’t understand his archaic language, they get frustrated, and they give up. Very few students will pull out the dictionary and try to plod through it line by line — most of them would skim it and then rely on me to answer questions the next day. Yet if given the chance to interact with the text and actually understand the plot through these tools, they’d begin to comprehend what they’ve read before coming to class. Teachers could use more class time to conduct seminars and discuss interpretive questions with them rather than spending two-thirds of the class period merely explaining plot points. There are other teachers who feel the same way — read one review of Shakespeare in Bits here.
So if Shakespeare In Bits ever decides to create a study guide for The Tempest, when students come across the lines “Look thou be true; do not give dalliance/Too … much the rein: the strongest oaths are straw/To the fire i’ the blood: be more abstemious,/Or else, good night your vow!” they won’t fret — they’ll know Prospero is simply telling ol’ Ferdinand to behave himself. It’ll be a piece of cake–a piece of cake with incarnadine frosting.