The Voyager Company’s Macbeth


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Back in the 1990s I worked for a small innovative software company call The Voyager Company. Voyager under the direction of Bob Stein and a bunch of really talented engineers and designers pretty much invented the modern concept of an ebook, including much of the UI.

Voyager’s 1994 Macbeth is a CD-ROM edition of the play; based on the recently published Cambridge edition (edited by one of the CD-ROM’s co-authors, Professor A. R. Braunmuller) with a complete audio performance of the entire play by the Royal Shakespeare Company, directed by Trevor Nunn, and starring Ian McKellan as Macbeth, and Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth.

Readers can simply read the play, or just listen, or listen and read; the pages will turn automatically! And clicking on any line of the play takes the reader to that place in the audio performance. There are notes and glosses (1,500 of them), explanatory essays (over 25,000 words worth), video clips from other performances of key scenes so you can compare different performances of the same scene, maps, charts, images—just about everything anyone could want. Readers can make all sorts of notes of their own, and export them with the text from the play and commentary that they go with, and edit them in a word processor.

I like Macbeth because, not only is the content absolutely fantastic, and of very high quality, it’s one of the most attractive CD-ROMs I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen hundreds. Voyager’s Macbeth has an easy to use, logical interface, inspired by the familiar book page, but the digital page is enhanced to take advantage of the abilities of the computer. Readers can take notes and copy text, hear audio, watch video clips, see still images, and use Macbeth’s incredibly powerful search capabilities. Drs. Rodes and Braunmuller are phenomenal teachers and Shakespeare scholars who are not shy about disagreeing in the most amiable way about acting or interpreting Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Here’s the catalog copy about the Voyager’s Macbeth CD-ROM from Voyager’s home page.

“Ever wished that you enjoyed Shakespeare as much as other people seem to? For us, reading Shakespeare was always serious homework, even with the trusty guidance of Cliff’s Notes, and at performances we spent most of the time trying to figure out what was actually happening.

Here at last is a Macbeth for those of us who never really “got it” in high school. Call it performed text. Or maybe annotated performance. Shakespeare has never been so enriched or so accessible. Read it, listen to it, or listen to the film of the Royal Shakespeare Company production. No more squinting at tiny footnotes and losing our place—hold down on the mouse for an instant definition. Wonder why Macbeth is such a big deal anyway? Turn to UCLA’s David Rodes’s introduction —accompanied by a picture gallery of historical figures and events—or to his and Braunmuller’s commentary on every imaginable aspect of the play. (We’re party to a genuine scholarly conversation, which gets especially lively when the two disagree.) Wonder what Hollywood made of Macbeth? Clips from Polanski’s and Welles’s versions, and from Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, are available right on the page. Yearn for the footlights? Perform alongside the pros in the Macbeth Karaoke.

As producer Michael Cohen points out, in sixteenth-century London, sophisticates and peasants alike went to the Globe, and Shakespeare was a pro who wanted to pack the house.

“Four hundred years later we talk differently, but if you can get a handle on the language — and this program offers a variety of tools to do exactly that— you can see how effective a drama it is.” Cohen isn’t kidding about all the tools. Available alongside UCLA Professor A. R. Braunmuller’s definitive edition of the play, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, are: the audio portion of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth; annotations and detailed notes; a concordance (an alphabetical listing of every word in the play); a collation comparing this edition to others; a textual analysis explaining why certain editorial choices were made; a glossary; a bibliography; a section on casting; and essays on Shakespeare and the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, on the history of the play’s performance, on its language, on witches and witchcraft, and on the playwright’s own source materials. Not to mention extensive search tools, and the ability to make margin notes and to export or print them, along with the corresponding lines from the play. This is Shakespeare the way it should be, but couldn’t be until now—a pleasure, instead of a duty.

Here are the technical requirements for Voyager’s Macbeth.

Windows: 486SX-33 or higher processor; 640 x 480, 256 color display; 8 MB RAM MPC2-compatible CD-ROM drive and sound card with speakers or headphones; Microsoft Windows 3.1 (TM); MS-DOS 5.0 or higher.

Macintosh: Any Macintosh (25-MHz 68030 processor or better); System 7 or higher; 5,000K of available RAM; 13″ color monitor; double-speed CD-ROM drive. For Macs running OS X, you need to use Classic mode.

Bob Stein created a promo video for Macbeth:

Here’s a link to a review by Jennifer Freed, in case you want someone else’s opinion.

You can read some comments about the Macbeth CD-ROM from Rachel Silver’s journal here.

I note that this CD-ROM released in 1994 has yet to be equaled, or surpassed, and it’s now 20210.

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