When you have an iPhone or iPad, you’re bound to spend a certain amount of time looking for new and interesting things to pop up in the App store. Hopefully, something with a bit more punch than the next 99 cent time-waster. Once in a while, you run into something that makes you appreciate the fact that some people are actually trying to do something with the abilities inherent in these devices.
I recently ran into the Shakespeare in Bits – Macbeth iPad App in the new release list on my iPad, and I was instantly intrigued. As both a self-proclaimed entertainment critic, and an English teacher, I couldn’t wait to test out an App that made strong claims on being a study aid for one of my favorite plays.
First, the App contains the full text of the play, as well as a full performance of the play which is an animated affair with some solid voice talents at work. That alone is worthwhile, but you get a great deal more for your $14.99 (iPad) or $7.99 (iPhone). The text and the “play” sit side-by-side, and the text highlights as it is spoken. Also, inherent in the name Shakespeare in Bits, the play is presented in “bits,” meaning that it runs through one bit at a time, with certain analyses, summaries, and so on, for each bit.
Beyond this general presentation of the text, there are several key features within the reading. Certain words and phrases are highlighted, and a tap will change these, in text, into a definition, or modern translation. Next, beside paragraphs you will frequently find “bubbles” with a letter in them. Tapping these will bring up a variety of additional information on the specific paragraph, often with some analysis of the connection to the scene, or events on a larger scale. These range from thematic points, to language use, to questions for you to think about relating to the specific action or event.
That is all just what you get in the “text” portion of the App, and that alone is well worth the price in my opinion. Having gone through this App, and many study guides for Macbeth over the years, I think it’s safe to say that you are already putting your money in the right place buying this over many other choices that cost the same or more. The “living” text options alone are a great value, and the animated performance is quite solid. Sound effects, and settings are put together well to give a vision of the mood, and overall it’s a surprisingly rich viewing of the play. That’s before you even get to the ghostly dagger, and a variety of other points specific to the play that are a bit more difficult for those on stage to deliver quite so clearly.
Finally, before you move away from the text tab itself, you can get analysis and summary for each of these “bits”, and these are very well done. With thematic and tonal notes, as well as character exploration and points to keep in mind for the future, these additional information nuggets are going to be of tremendous value to those studying the play.
Beyond the text, the App features a variety of other tabs for you to explore. Each character has their own summary, with nice details on their connection to the themes, and there is a character map, which is essentially a sort of flow chart of the relations between characters. For new students to the play, these will both be of great use, especially when you can so easily pop back and forth.
You also get an overall analysis covering the themes, imagery, language, often quoted sections, and an overall plot summary. All of these sections are nicely done as well, and give the reader a good point of connection to see how the entire play moves, as well as a reference for where any particular part may fit into things.
Put this all together, and you have an impressive package. I can’t say that this is really the only Macbeth study guide/aid you’ll ever need, especially considering all the wheres, whens, and whys involved in your reading it, but it’s pretty close. If I could make High Schools provide access to this, I would, and I would really be hard-pressed to think what else could be in here (within reason) that would make me rate it any higher.
Check out the Shakespeare in Bits homepage for more information. Below, check out a video which details how things work (it’s Romeo & Juliet, they’re other current offering).
- The unabridged original play text, broken into easily digested ‘bits’.
- Complete notes, summaries, and analyses for each section.
- A unique in-line translation system for obscure words and phrases.
- Nearly two and a half hours of animation, featuring the voices of Stephen Dillane and Fiona Shaw. (Audio provided by Naxos Audiobooks).
- Biographies for each character, accessed from the main play or through the cast browser.
- A character relationship map, demonstrating key relationships in the play.
- A side-by-side main play view that presents the animations and the text at the same time.
- High-resolution animations.
- A text highlight feature, that highlights the current line of text being spoken in the animation.
- And all of the standard Shakespeare In Bits features.
Check out the App Store page below.