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The innovative tools we offer to explore a Shakespeare play

There has been a lot of interest recently in how you can use our web-site for play-reading Shakespeare’s plays. There are three posts which seem to have excited people:

We’re delighted that so many of you are interested in play-reading Shakespeare’s plays, and though  it’s probably the most rewarding, there are other ways of exploring the plays, and computer technology can help in that exploration. In this post, we’ll tell you what you can do with our web-site.

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We think that Shakespeare’s plays are in a class of their own, and are worth exploring by anyone with an interest in human nature, English literature, or theatre. The best way of exploring them, in our view, is by experiencing them; by seeing them; by playing them yourselves; by play-reading them; and by exploring characters and situations in the plays.

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Computer technology and Shakespeare:

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Computer technology (the Internet; tablets; e-books, etc) make it possible to explore plays (and not only Shakespeare’s) in ways that are not so easy with printed books.

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A play has a quite complex structure which, in printed form, is implicit: the play is usually broken into Acts and / or scenes; there’s a list of roles in the play; there are stage directions; cues; speeches; etc. In the printed form this structure is usually shown by font; by alignment; by position  in the script. The reader has to interpret the structure.

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If we want to use computer technology to help players explore plays, we need to make this structure explicit. So the first thing we did with the plays was to make their structure explicit, and that the relationship between these different parts is understood. We’ve done this for most of Shakespeare’s plays.

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Once they’re in this structured format, we can explore the structure of the play. For example, we know the lines spoken by each character in the play. We can make the text of the lines spoken by character 1 look different to those spoken by character 2, and we use this to show script in ‘Standard Script’ format; as ‘Highlit Text’ and as ‘Parts and Cues’.

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Cast Lists:

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We can also analyse the play to see which characters speak in which scenes and who they interact with. From this, we can build cast lists which allow a small number of people to playread a Shakespeare play. There are often around 30 characters in a Shakespeare play, but a playreading group works well with maybe 7 to 9 players, each player playing many roles. It’s obviously important to minimize the number of times a player is speaking to themselves in different roles, and it’s also important to make each player’s lines as equal in size as possible. This is what our cast lists do. We usually provide cast lists for 6 to 12 players for each play, plus the original cast list used by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men / The King’s Players (taken from Casting Shakespeare’s Plays, by T.J. King).

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The Script set-up window:

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But this is only the start. On each play script (see Hamlet script) there’s a set-up page (which you can access by clicking on the gear-wheel at the top, right-hand corner of the script – and close by clicking on the gear-wheel again). In that window you can choose to see the script in: standard script format; highlit text; or parts and cues). You can also see all characters in the play; one individual character; or the characters that make up one player’s roles in a cast list. And, of course, you can adjust font size and font type.

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Below the gear-wheel, in the script window, you’ll also see a button for each Act / Scene in the play. So the first button is labelled A1S1 and one of the last buttons is labelled A5S1. Click on any of those buttons, and you’ll see the script of that scene, in the format you’ve defined in the set-up window.

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Playreadings with Cast Lists:

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With this setup gear-wheel, we can: let someone read the whole play; change the way the script is displayed; and run play-readings using a cast list. Here in Edinburgh, we run playreadings from September through May, and each month publish a Playreading Report of how it went. (See Playreading Reports for a list of recent playreadings.) We welcome contributions of Playreading Reports from other groups.

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As well as playreadings, which require 6 to 8 players to get together for 3 – 4 hours to read and discuss a whole play, we provide ways to experience the plays with less people and less time.

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Let’s Explore:

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It is interesting to explore what a character in a Shakespeare play is like. The obvious way to do this is to listen to what the character says and does – and what other characters say about that character. “Let’s Explore” brings together the major speeches of a character to help do this. For example, in Hamlet, you can explore the characters of: Hamlet, Gertrude, Polonius, and Ophelia.

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Let’s Play:

As well as exploring what characters say, we can explore what they do. Let’s Play lets us play scenes out loud which are particularly interesting in the play. For example, using Hamlet as an example again, we’ve set up Let’s Play for: A2S1 Polonius deals with his family (3 players); A3S4: Hamet accuses his mother (3 players); A3S1 Hamlet fights with Ophelia (4 players).

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Video Readings:

 

The idea of Let’s Explore and Let’s Play is to encourage people to playread scenes. But it is helpful to have examples of such playreadings, so we’ve created Video Readings, which show the script of an extract, with one or more of our Edinburgh Shakespeare Playreading group playing the script.  You can see (and play) the Video Readings we’ve made on our Video Readings Page which shows a list of the Video Readings. Click on any of the pictures and you’re taken to a page where you can watch the Video Reading.

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Making your own Let’s Explore, Let’s Play, Video Readings.

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Of course, you may not like the items we’ve set up. If you’re a director, or a teacher of drama at school or university or at home, or you’re running a Shakespeare play-reading group, you may want to make your own “Let’s Explore”, “Let’s Play” or “Video Readings.

Rest assured you can do this, and we’ve explained how to do so in a couple of posts:

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Setting up your own Let’s Play (or Let’s Explore)

You can do this in any software package (e.g. MS-Word) which supports URLs. Once you’ve set up the URLs, a user (or student) can click on the link, and a tab will open up in their web-browser, with the script needed to play the item.

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How to make a Video Reading

Making a Video Reading is similar – you need to use one of our posts, or one you’ve already made – and you need a microphone to record the speech. The link above will give you more detail on how to do this.

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Reviews and Articles:

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Everything we’ve talked about above has been about exploring the play through speaking the words out loud, and this helps people to get in touch with the feelings of the characters, and how they interact with each other.

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There are other, less participatory ways of engaging with a play – perhaps by watching a production. We provide reviews of productions, with a focus on those productions that you can watch at home, either on DVD or by streaming. You’ll find a list of these reviews at: Great Shows you can watch at home.

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You can also read about the play. We provide an Introduction to each play, and there are usually a number of articles about the play.

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Play Index

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Most of the things we’ve outlined above have their own menu item at the top of our web pages (Let’s Play; The Plays; Video Readings; Playreadings; Reviews; MFFEV1).

This is fine if you’re using the site to explore one of these things, e.g. you’re exploring Let’s Play items; or you’re looking at Video Readings).

But what if you’re exploring a play, and all the different items which relate to that play. Well, we’re implementing a standard index for each play which shows all the Cast Lists, Let’s Explore, Let’s Play, Video Readings etc. which apply to that play.

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On a laptop or on a tablet (in landscape format) that index shows to the right hand side of the script. Click on any item in the index, and the script is replaced by whatever you have selected. On a mobile phone, the index usually shows after the script, so you have to scroll to the bottom of the script, find the item in the index you want, click on it, and the screen will be updated with what you’ve requested.

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You can see such an index by looking at Hamlet script.

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At the time of writing we’ve completed indexes for seven of the plays, but we plan to add indexes for each of the plays over time – Macbeth is next – watch this space.

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And that’s enough about how you can explore a Shakespeare play on our web-site. It’s now time to do it!

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Let’s play!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

If you want to know how our Shakespeare edition is developing,  ‘like’ our Facebook page, and you’ll get more detailed updates on Facebook on what’s happening.

 

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