Wide-spread anxieties about the disappearance of the printed book, even if well founded, are misplaced when it comes to Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare conceived of his plays as theatrical performances, not as reading experiences. To judge from papers that survive from other acting companies, no one in Shakespeare's theater beside the author, the "book holder" who stage-managed the production, and the Lord Chamberlain who licensed plays for performance ever saw an entire script. The actors were given only their own lines. Inside the theater building itself bodies, space, time, and sound were configured in such a way that actors and auditors/spectators shared the same physical space. To judge from comments made by eye-witnesses and from internal clues in scripts, they shared the same social and psychological space, as well. They interacted with one another in quite direct ways: they operated within precisely the same time frame, and they talked to one another. That configuration of playtext and receiver is quite different from what a solitary individual experiences as she or he silently reads a book held at arm's length. In multi-sensory appeal and interactive possibilities electronic media would seem, then, to be closer than printed books to the circumstances in which Shakespeare's plays were originally performed.

Peter S. Donaldson's Shakespeare Interactive Archive, located at MIT and accessible at dedicated sites around the country, illustrates the differences between book and electronic media. The text of a play appears on the computer screen, just as it might in a printed book, but hot spots every few lines give the user opportunities for going elsewhere: into a lexicon of difficult words, into a digest of critical opinion about specific lines and specific scenes, into still images, into moving images from several different productions on film and video. The user's freedom to move among these possibilities at will points up the way in which electronic media abandon the strict linearity-the movement from page 1 to page 10 to page 100 or from Act One, scene one, to Act Three, scene three, to Act Five, scene five-that is assumed in most modern books. (The elaborate cross-referenced indices printed with many books, large and small, in Shakespeare's time suggest that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books were not necessarily intended to be read linearly, either.) In effect, the user of the Shakespeare Archive becomes the writer of his or her own text. Jay David Bolter in Writing Space has given this non-linear creativity its most enthusiastic description:
More effectively than the codex or printed book, the computer reflects the mind as a web of verbal and visual elements in a conceptual space. When technology provided us with printed books and photographs, our minds were repositories of fixed texts and still images. When the contemporary technology is electronic, our minds become pulsing networks of ideas (207).
For books' linearity electronic media substitute depth: instead of moving across the page, the user moves "deeper" into the site. A graphic example of this depth-effect, if we can call it that, is Larry Friedlander's "Shakespeare Project," which includes a program called "TheaterGame" that offers a virtual acting space on the screen and allows the user to block the figures in a scene and make, in effect, a little movie.

For Richard A. Lanham in The Electronic Word the differences between books and electronic communication are connected to one of the oldest conflicts in western civilization: that between philosophy and rhetoric. In Lanham's analysis, philosophy with its controlled unitary viewpoint, its emphasis on directness, its cultivation of the individual thinker finds its ideal medium in the printed book, while rhetoric with its interactive quality, its rootedness in orality, its situatedness in the public sphere has taken on a new lease on life with personal computers. Real learning and a healthy sense of self, Lanham contends, have to do with an "oscillation" between the two ways of knowing. Implicit in Donaldson's, Bolter's, and Lanham's work is a conviction that electronic media are more democratic than printed books: the example of television suggests that electronic technology could reach a broader public than books do, and the interactive possibilities of hypertext mean that individuals are more in control of their own encounter with canonical texts like Shakespeare's than they are when they read those texts in printed books.

 For all that, it is important to remember the huge differences that separate electronic media from live performance. Bodies, space, time, and sound are configured in fundamentally different ways. Even if they move in time, actors' bodies remain miniaturized images on a screen. "Depth" may be a good term for describing the user's way through a computer program, but he or she still confronts a flat screen. However good a computer's speakers may be, they cannot convey the piercing presence of voices in the theater. The dominant element in the configuration of bodies, space, time, and sound is the user's own body: the electronic information he or she receives remains an object positioned at arm's length, even if the user's fingers can manipulate that object. Furthermore, the ways in which the object can be manipulated are pre-programmed. The user makes her or his way through a series of binary choices. Seeing a play in live performance, by contrast, presents the viewer with a much wider range of possible places to look, of possible things to attend to.

 For Shakespeare students and their teachers, electronic media are probably most important for the huge array of information they make available and for the ease with which that information can be brought into juxtaposition with the texts of Shakespeare's plays. In his contribution to this seminar Mark Singer offers a selected "webliography" of electronically available material related to Shakespeare. Three other members of the seminar, Patricia Lennox, Erika Lin, and R L Widmann, discuss specific pedagogical applications of electronic media. Lennox summarizes a study that measured how much better students remembered details in a Chaucer text they had studied with the aid of a hypertext program, as compared with students who had not had access to such a program. Lin's report on the "The English Renaissance in Context: Facsimiles on the Web" (ERIC) describes some of the texts available on line from the Furness Library and Special Collections Department at the University of Pennsylvania. R L Widmann's "Virtual Shakespeare: English 3000 at the University of Colorado at Boulder" describes the development of a Shakespeare course that involves frequent interactions via computer of students with the teacher and of students with each other.


The English Renaissance in Context: Facsimiles on the Web
Virtual Shakespeare: English 3000 at the University of Colorado at Boulder

Digital Media/Film & Video/Stage Production/Printed Media