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New literary app makes Shakespeare go digital

A new array of Shakespeare apps has been developed by Agant and Cambridge University Press, providing an interactive platform for the literary legend's most famous plays.

The app series called Explore Shakespeare has been developed for the iPad and is aimed at the playwright's casual readers.

"A lot of people have a copy of Shakespeare on their bookshelf that they never got around to reading because they have this idea that Shakespeare is hard or has to be studied to be appreciated. These apps are about making Shakespeare accessible for everyone," said John Pettigrew, executive producer of the Explore Shakespeare series.

The first apps to be launched will be Romeo and Juliet: Explore Shakespeare and Macbeth: Explore Shakespeare. These include the full texts of the plays, along with audio performances, photographs of professional productions, glossary definitions, plot summaries, notes and articles by experts.

They also offer interactive word clouds for individual scenes and characters, diagrams (or "circles") showing the relationships between characters in any given scene, and "themelines" to show how key themes wind their way through the texts.

A quirky feature of the apps is that they include full audio performances from stars such as Kate Beckinsale and Martin Sheen.

Pettigrew believes the app will help readers to get past outdated or poetic language by providing context and interaction, although he insists that the interactive features help people enjoy the text rather than leading people away from it.

"Everything there is designed to keep you in the play: the play's the thing," he explained.

"A classic one is in 'Romeo and Juliet' which is 'wherefore art thou Romeo?' It's not 'where are you Romeo?', It's 'why are you Romeo?' So that kind of phrase gets a glossary to explain what is meant," said Pettigrew.

As part of the development of the first two apps, Cambridge University Press tested them on a group of Year 9 students and found the results to show that there is a real market for the app in education.

"For a 13-year old, Shakespearean language can be a barrier and to have something right there on the page is really helpful," he said.

Both apps available on the App store for the premium price of £9.99, which Pettigrew insists is a fair price for "providing a high-quality, high-value app."