Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
In Theaters
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Savant
Horror DVDs
The M.O.D. Squad
Art House
HD Talk
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info


Standard Deviants - Shakespeare Tragedies: Origins and Style

Cerebellum // Unrated // July 4, 2000
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted September 12, 2001 | E-mail the Author
I love Shakespeare, so I was hoping for something interesting with the Standard Deviants DVD on Shakespeare's Tragedies: Origins and Style: something that would offer some insights into the life and work of this master dramatist; something that I could recommend to others as an introduction to a fascinating body of work. Unfortunately, my hopes were sadly disappointed.

There are two fundamental flaws in this program. The first is the basic style of presentation, and the second is the quality of the content. First let's deal with the presentation style. In a nutshell, the attitude presented by this DVD is "Shakespeare is hard and boring, so we'll try to make it "cool" for you." This sends exactly the wrong message: that learning has to be sugar-coated and served in teeny-tiny bites to be palatable. Let me tell you: Shakespeare's tragedies are rich stuff, full of action, high drama, tension, conflict, great characters, and gorgeous language. A DVD on the subject ought to focus on what makes the material interesting in the first place. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the Standard Deviants crew don't do. Instead, we get a few basic facts about Shakespeare presented in MTV-style catering-to-tiny-attention-span clips featuring a variety of cartoon characters and hip, joking young actors. Now, please excuse me while I bang my head against the wall for a moment.

OK, I'm back. Apart from the irritating presentation, the other problem with the Standard Deviants presentation of Shakespeare is the content. To put it bluntly, there's very little of it. The section titled "The Program" presents about an hour's worth of fairly basic information about Shakespeare, broken down into several sections: Shakespeare's life and times, his use of language, Elizabethan drama, tragedy in general, Greek tragedy, tragedy in the Middle Ages, and Shakespeare and tragedy. In each of these, the format is as follows: a brief lesson (with lots of repetition of key concepts), followed by a review session that goes over (again) the key concepts, followed by a quiz. At the end of the last of the lessons, there's another quiz. Did I mention that it gets kind of repetitive?

I didn't specialize in Shakespeare in college, but getting three degrees in English literature did expose me fairly thoroughly to the Bard and his works, so I figure I'm fairly capable of judging the actual content quality of the program. In short, the content really isn't all that great. For one thing, it's really basic. The program is advertised as being designed for high-school and college audiences, but I would say that it's much too simplistic for a college audience. It might help high school freshmen or sophomores in their first experience with Shakespeare... though honestly, a good encyclopedia article would do just as well. I did appreciate the way that the program attempts to place Shakespeare's tragedies into the context of Greek and medieval European tragedy, but it doesn't do more than scratch the surface. The same thing goes for the discussion of meter: it's a tough concept, and they don't do a bad job of presenting it, but it's very shallow. The issue of the contested authorship of Shakespeare's plays is mentioned and dismissed in a sentence or two; I happen to agree with their conclusion, but I have to fault them for not even mentioning some of the supporting arguments and evidence.

Overall, I found the concepts to be presented in much too simplistic a manner. For instance, in a discussion of the differences between the drama of Shakespeare's day and modern drama, a big deal is made of the use of symbolism, making it appear that symbolism was used in Elizabethan times but not in modern films or drama. (Uh, no.) And they ignore other, more interesting (and genuine) differences, like the Elizabethans' attitude toward originality; they favored skilful retellings of old stories over inventing new ones... which led some authors to invent non-existent "sources" for their stories, to give their creativity the necessary respectability.

The menu selections suggest that the DVD is pretty packed, but the reality is that the DVD is fluffed out to make it look like there's more than there really is. Though there are several other sections on the DVD apart from the main "Program" section, there's no additional content. The "Select Lesson" section is simply an alternate way to access the material that's presented in the "Program" section. The "Quick Review" section is a compilation of the very same quizzes that appear at the end of each section of "The Program," and the "Bard-o-lator" section is simply the longer quiz that appears at the end of the "Program" section.


No, this isn't the kind of DVD that you watch to admire the stunning image quality. Even so, it's substandard. The full-frame presentation features garish colors that are frequently much too harsh and bright; in particular, the colored text tends to bleed. In one section in particular, the text labels on the navigation buttons actually smear all the way across the image. There are also some edge haloes and a general fuzziness to the image.


I'd say that sound quality is actually more important than video quality for a DVD like this, which relies more on narration than on visual images. The lack of surround effects isn't a big deal, but it did bother me that the volume tended to change from normal to blaring to normal again, depending on which actor was narrating the clip.


The menus for this DVD are terrible. First of all, you can't skip the animation. It's not long, but after seeing it a couple of times, it got annoying. Secondly, the menu choices are arranged in a completely counter-intuitive way. The selections are arranged more or less left-to-right around a circle. The default first selection is "Helpful Info," so you'd think that's the first thing you'd watch, then the next selection to the right, which is "Select Lesson," etc. Wrong. The first thing that you should watch (because it contains the introduction to the program, as well as the main content) is the third option, "The Program." If this makes sense to you, more power to you; it certainly didn't make sense to me.

The section titled "Standard Deviants" provides a short informational clip on the Standard Deviants series of instructional videos, and Cerebellum, the company that makes them. It didn't inspire me with any desire to go out and get any of their other materials.

Final thoughts

Apparently the Standard Deviants have won awards for best educational video. All I can say is that I hate to think what the competition is like, then. There is definitely a need for good, informative documentary pieces about subjects like Shakespeare, but this DVD doesn't fill it. It's shallow and focuses far too much on style over substance, in the process managing to miss the boat on what actually makes Shakespeare's tragedies great.
Buy from






Skip It

E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Popular Reviews

Sponsored Links
Sponsored Links