The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0486 Saturday, 1 December 2012
Date: Saturday, December 1, 2012
Subject: Shakespeare Apps
[Editor’s Note: Herb Weil called my attention to this article that will appear in tomorrow’s New York Times. The Shakespeare and Shakespeare Pro app discussed below are the work of Ron Severdia and his PlayShakespeare.com. Ron designed the Joomla template for the new SHAKSPER web site and graciously hosts SHAKSPER at PlayShakespeare.com: http://shaksper.net/about-playshakespeare-com. Congratulations, Ron. —Hardy]
New Apps for Help Reading Shakespeare
By J. D. Biersdorfer
November 30, 2012
Like cat videos and political rhetoric, William Shakespeare is free online if you know where to look. Sites like PlayShakespeare.com and Project Gutenberg offer the full array of plays and poetry online or as free e-books.
Still, pure text from more than 400 years ago can be a bit bewildering to a modern audience looking to explain lines like “Prithee, keep up thy quillets.” But good cheer! It’s the 21st century, and modern technology has made wonderful advances in making Shakespeare’s plays and poems more accessible — even enticing — for an audience equipped with iPads and smartphones.
“Whatever your experience in reading Shakespeare, it is in performance that his words come alive,” intones Sir Derek Jacobi in a new interactive edition of OTHELLO from Sourcebooks ($5.99). This multimedia version for the iPad makes good on that introductory message. Video clips of selected scenes from a 1987 performance at the Market Theater in South Africa are interspersed with the play’s lines, allowing the reader to see the written words in action.
Photos from various productions over the years and audio recordings (including examples of Paul Robeson and F. Scott Fitzgerald playing the Moor) provide additional sight and sound to go with the words; the text itself has an iPad-friendly component as well: one-touch translation of 1,400 terms throughout the 3,560 lines of the play. Readers can press a finger to the iPad’s screen on select phrases to see a translation into modern English. Once the archaic vocabulary is explained, the reader can then tap back into the text and continue reading without having to leave the line, lose her place or start hunting around on Netflix for the best movie rendition.
Built as an iBooks-enhanced textbook (as opposed to a free-standing iPad app) and part of a series called “The Shakesperience,” this “Othello” takes a little getting used to, but it includes a short introductory section that explains its various features. These include an area to enter notes, and supplementary commentary from an array of academics and actors.
Plays aren’t the only form in which Shakespeare’s words come alive, as demonstrated by THE SONNETS BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, an app designed for the iPad ($13.99). The short poems, each a traditional 14 lines in length, appear in the app as both annotated text and as performance pieces.
Each sonnet has an accompanying video clip that shows an established Shakespearean actor (Patrick Stewart, Fiona Shaw and David Tennant among them) reciting the poem. Stage actors better known for their screen work, like Dominic West, Stephen Fry and Kim Cattrall, also help broaden the appeal for nonsubscribers to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Text and video for each sonnet can be viewed separately, or combined on-screen to highlight each line as it is read aloud, which very effectively displays the power of the poetry.
The overall design of the “Sonnets” app is clean and intuitive, with a simple menu to guide the user to other features, like notation by Katherine Duncan-Jones of Oxford University. Commentary by other scholars and a digital reproduction of the 1609 Quarto, the first published book of the sonnets, round out the experience. Tech-savvy English majors may also enjoy the Share-a-Sonnet feature, which allows the link to a Web-based version of a poem’s performance to be posted on Facebook or Twitter.
Those completists yearning for portable versions of all the plays, all the sonnets and the six long poems attributed to Shakespeare are in luck with a free app called, simply enough, SHAKESPEARE. The app is available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, and Android devices. Well organized and smartly designed for touchscreens, “Shakespeare” offers menus for each play, and category headings for the sonnets and poems. Tap a play’s title to jump to the next screen, which offers submenus for the dramatis personae, the start of each act and a scene-by-scene breakdown with a detailed synopsis of the action.
For some, plowing through line after line of iambic pentameter on a four-inch screen may actually be a more comfortable way to focus on Shakespeare than grappling with the bulky Riverside edition. Font size can be easily adjusted in the app’s settings, as can the colors for text and background.
“Shakespeare” also includes a small glossary to help leap from Elizabethan to modern English, but to get the full 40,000-word integrated glossary, a $9.99 upgrade to the SHAKESPEARE PRO version is required; it is available only for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. “Shakespeare Pro” has plenty of extra features designed for students, including a guide to scansion, biographical information and a portrait gallery.
The text used in both versions of the app is provided by the PlayShakespeare.com site and was compiled from a combination of sources, including the First Folio of 1623 and the Globe edition of 1866. While no video clips are included, the app itself has been used in performance — in 2009, the Modern Shakespeare Company gave a dramatic reading of “Macbeth” at an Apple store in San Francisco using “Shakespeare” on their iPhones.
Perhaps all the world is a stage. Thanks to these ingenious apps, the world of Shakespeare is certainly much easier to comprehend.