March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Shakespeare on the iPad

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It’s a boon year for students of Shakespeare and thespians: from Sourcebooks, Inc. and Touch Press come interactive resources for the iPad that will change the way readers experience the Bard’s works. Sourcebooks has just released three titles in its “Shakesperience” series that promise to “transport readers from the page to the stage”: Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. Each iBook provides the text of the play along with insight from actors on their roles, audio and visuals of celebrated performances, and much, much more. Releases of Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Julius Caesar will follow soon. Extensive commentary and notes, video recordings of famed actors performing each of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, and a facsimile of the 1609 Quarto are among the highlights of the stunning Sonnets by William Shakespeare from Touch Press. That app and Othello are reviewed below.

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 (Sourcebooks, 2012; Gr 9 Up; $5.99) catapults users from a colorful book cover image directly into act 1, scene I 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 stage black-and-white and full-color 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

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 an undergraduate course in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Each of the 154 selections in The Sonnets by William Shakespeare (also by Illuminations, The Arden Shakespeare, Faber and Faber Ltd; 2012; Gr 11Up; $13.99) 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 work 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 the language of his work. Author Katherine Duncan-Jones considers the use of the sonnet to explore private emotions without the use of puns and wit. 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 feel connected 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 sonnets can be accessed by actor or number. A scroll feature on a top menu bar allows users to move through a list of the poems. 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

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.



  1. Wow awesome, must check this out…huge Shakespeare fan here!