Discovering Shakespeare (IVI Publishing) is a peculiar title. It’s hard to gauge the target audience – too high-falutin’ for children, too glib for adults. It feels like a product of the Stratford-on-Avon Tourist Bureau. Imagine that all the tour guides at all the Shakespeare tourist hot spots got together and collated their notes, and then gave them to a pleasant enough woman with an upper crust English accent to deliver. The result is like a commercial made up of one part “Come Home to Jamaica” and one part “George Washington Slept Here.” Scholarship is ankle-deep. First there’s the presumptive: “Shakespeare had the opportunity to attend Edward IV Grammar School,” in explaining how he got so smart and without mentioning the fact that there is no proof he attended any school at all. Then there’s the downright wrong: Ben Jonson did not compose the “great poem to Shakespeare” on the occasion of Shakespeare’s death, but on the occasion of the publication of the First Folio seven years later. Nobody took any notice of Shakespeare’s death at all. The monument at Stratford was also erected seven years later. Virtually every film clip of Rebecca Lynn telling of the significance of this or that location in England contains errors of omission or obfuscation. This is a CD-ROM full of the most glib and glorified praise for Shakespeare, with no depth. It’s what Shaw called “Bardolotry.” Since the title doesn’t include the text of the plays (the one thing of which we can be certain), it has no meat to it at all. If all of the “films” were edited together into a 40 minute movie for sixth graders or tour groups of elderly dilettantes on the QE2 headed for Merry Olde, it might prove entertaining, but it still wouldn’t be valid.
– February 1996