iPhone Life magazine

Quick Look: Shakespeare Pro

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When I got my iPad earlier this month, I had an idea that I would be using it to revive this space a bit.  And really, what better way to reintroduce my writing in this space than one of history’s greatest writers, Shakespeare.

I remember when I was in college, I took a Shakespeare class.  The required text cost about $200, and was an enormous, leather-bound tome consisting of every play Shakespeare ever wrote.  It weighed what must have been 75 pounds, all of which consisted of onion skin pages, and text so small my eyes have still not recovered.  So, you can imagine my elation when I found all of this information, in one package, attractively wrapped on my iPad. Yeah, I had the same thought…if only this had been around when I was in college, I might not need glasses today.  well, that may be an exaggeration.  Still, though, I was more than happy to check this one out, and very excited when the developers sent me a copy of the Pro version of the app to check out. Let’s go ahead and take a closer look.

The Shakespeare App is brought to us by PlayShakespeare.com, which is a fantastic (and free) online resource for Shakespeare’s plays and other written works, and their expertise really shows through with this one, on everything from the interface and layout, straight down to the text and explanations.

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There are two versions of the Shakespeare App, a free version and the Pro version which costs $19.95.  Both versions feature the complete texts of all of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets, and poems, as well as a concordance of his work.  The Pro version also includes a complete glossary, quotes, Shakespearian facts (above), a complete portrait gallery, and a Scansion (which is a demarcation of metrical patterns in lines of poetry).  If all you want to do is read the works, then the free app will probably be sufficient for you. If you want a more in depth look at the author, his life, and his works, though, then you will want to spring for the Pro version and its extra features.

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Let’s get started with the plays, because every Shakespeare fan knows “the play’s the thing…”  The plays are arranged alphabetically, with a thumbnail of each volume featuring a classic illustration on the cover.   Beneath these images, each play also indicates the title, genre, date, and number of lines.  All 41 plays can be found here, as well as 154 sonnets, 6 poems, and (in the pro version) a companion volume titled Tales from Shakespeare, which reduces each play to a short novella for younger readers.

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Simply tap any of the icons (the 44 icons are arranged 12 to a screen, making it easy to scroll through the four screens) to open the play you wish to read.  Of course, the real test is going to come in readability, and I thought the Shakespeare app did a fantastic job here.

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Each play is divided by Act, including the complete Dramatis Personae and scene breakdown.  The text is displayed in a nice, large font, with the character names in bold.  If this is still too hard for your eyes, then you can use the settings to adjust the font size, style, and color.  You can even choose whether to display line numbers.  In other words, you can display the text in the way which is most convenient for you.  This kind of customization is absolutely fantastic, and makes reading these classic works every bit the treat they should be.

You can use your finger to scroll through the text or (in the Pro version) just select the tilt scrolling option and the words will glide toward the top of the screen like the opening scroll in Star Wars.  I will say, however, that I found it a bit annoying that the app could only display one scene at a time.  When the scrolling reaches the end of the scene, it will stop until you tap the next scene arrow.  It would be nice if it could automatically advance to the next scene.

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The other fantastic feature I found here is the portrait gallery.  There are many known authentic and less than authentic portraits of Shakespeare.  This app puts all of them in one place, along with a plague detailing the history and background of the picture.  This is absolutely fantastic, though it would have been nice if there had been a way to view each of the pictures in full screen mode for a closer look.

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The app also features a variety of toys and tools to help make your experience as fruitful as possible.  For example, you can use the quotes and facts to fill yourself with Shakespearean trivia and knowledge, including a complete biography of the author and statistics about the plays (did you know that Hamlet the play has the most lines of any of the plays; and Hamlet the character has the most speaking lines of any of Shakespeare’s characters…).  You can also use the concordance to search the plays for a particular word or phrase.  This was nice, though I thought there should have been a way to limit your search to a specific play or text.

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Finally, if I remember one thing from high school, it is that Shakespeare is not exactly easy reading.  He wrote in a time when the language was very different than what we consider English today.  To help you with this, there is a glossary in the app.  You can look up words in the glossary to learn their definitions, as well as a list of the plays using that word. 

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You can also tap the word in the text of a play (words included in the glossary are underlined) and a definition of the word will pop up.  This is a great way to easily keep track of some extremely difficult language, though one of the problems with Shakespeare is that this glossary could never be big enough.

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This is one of those fantastic apps which was really just meant for the iPad.  Sure, it was around for the iPhone, and it was actually one of the first apps I downloaded with my iPod Touch.  To be honest, though, in that format, it was a fun, free app; but I rarely did much more than use it to say, “can you believe my entire Shakespeare library is in here…”  On the iPad, though, everything from the interface to the little extras, and even the text formatting have been almost perfectly optimized.  The result is an app which makes Shakespeare the treat is was meant to be.  In his life, and many of today’s students may disagree, Shakespeare was all about entertaining the people with his plays.  From the highest royalty to the masses, his intent was to provide an escape…entertainment.  Kind of like Iron Man does today.  I thought this app did a great job of keeping that spirit of entertainment alive, without losing the educational quality of the works.

The Shakespeare Pro App is available in the iTunes App Store for $19.99.  There is also a free version which does not include all of the extra features.

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