Reviews in this column first appeared in SLJ’s column Touch and Go. After each review, you’ll find the date it appeared online. Online, there are links to related resources, a trailer (if one exists), and a link to purchase information. Please note that later versions of some of these titles may now be available. Visit Touch and Go at slj.com under “Blogs & Columns” for additional reviews, commentary, and interviews with people in the field.
Othello: The Shakesperience. William Shakespeare. Sourcebooks, Inc. iBooks. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. 2012. $5.99.
Gr 9 Up–Let’s face it. Who hasn’t struggled with Shakespeare? Sourcebooks’ “Shakesperience” iBooks, which build on their earlier print plus CD series, are designed to remedy this problem by helping readers connect with the playwright’s texts more easily and more deeply. Othello catapults users from a colorful book cover image directly into act 1, scene 1 on a screen designed to look like the double-page spread of an open book. Indexes and navigation icons are hidden until the top of the screen is touched.
The text drives the iPad experience: behind words and phrases highlighted in blue are explanatory notes, and by the second page turn users will discover audio scene introductions by the renowned Shakespearian actor Sir Derek Jacobi, and short, read-along audio recordings by notable stage and film actors. Comparative audio renditions of actors performing carefully selected classic lines (Paul Robeson, John Kani, and Hugh Quarshie as Othello and Emma Fielding and Uta Hagen as Desdemona, etc.), bonus archival recordings by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edwin Booth, and video clips from live performances will enhance viewers’ engagement with the play.
Additional layers of information include galleries of captioned black-and-white and full-color stage photographs; costume and set renderings; production notes; authoritative articles providing historical context; and interviews with actors, directors, and a voice coach. Tools for note-taking, highlighting, and bookmarking are available, as are embedded definitions and a searchable glossary of more than 1400 terms. A table of contents aids access. For teachers and students, as well as all of those who missed the brilliance of Shakespeare the first time around, The Shakesperience: Othello, is a dream come true.–Kathleen Wilson, New York University, NY, NY (10/11/12)
The Sonnets by William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare. Touch Press/Illuminations/The Arden Shakespeare/ Faber and Faber Ltd; 2012; iOS, requires 5.0 or later. $13.99.
Gr 11 Up–In an app that will appeal to even the most reluctant of students, Touch Press has assembled a brilliant team of scholars and actors to produce the equivalent of a course in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Each of the 154 selections begins with a video recording of an actor’s recitation of the work (delivered by Stephen Fry, Patrick Stewart, Fiona Shaw, or another noted performer). As the verse is presented, users can choose to view the performance full-screen, or read the verses as the corresponding text is highlighted. Additional notes analyze individual lines.
Don Paterson provides commentary for each sonnet, and contributes to the fascinating section titled, “Perspectives.” Here students will gain a better understanding of Shakespeare’s contribution to the form, discover speculative theory about his sexuality, and learn the origins of original pronunciation.
Cicely Berry shares thoughts on how academics have “stolen the sound of Shakespeare from us” in that people feel they “must” study him to appreciate his language. Author Katherine Duncan-Jones considers the use of the sonnet to explore private emotions without puns. There are also a few discussions about the true authorship of the verses.
Every “Perspectives” entry is composed of text and a corresponding video. These unpretentious, you-are-there conversations allow users to connect to the sonnet as a form, and illuminate the meaning and intent of the works. Shakespeare’s narrative poem, “A Lover’s Complaint” is also given attention. The app includes a text-only category of notes from The Arden Shakespeare offering information on context and illusion and the reception and criticism of the selections, but that section and the facsimile of the 1609 edition of the Sonnets pale in comparison to the video-rich resources.
Large buttons on the home page link each section, and the sonnets can be accessed by actor or number. Students and teachers will want to watch the videos multiple times, in English classes, as well as theater class for its acting suggestions. An essential purchase for upper-level literature classes and anyone interested in Shakespeare performance.–Pamela Schembri, Newburgh Enlarged City Schools, Newburgh, NY (10/11/12)