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The WordPlay Shakespeare Series Review by Debra Brinkman

New Book Press

One of the things that used to concern me about homeschooling my children was what I would do when we got to the point of “learning Shakespeare” and other high school literature.

In my honors and AP English courses, we covered Shakespeare. Every semester of high school English included at least one play. Although I enjoyed those studies (except for Julius Caesar, which I never did finish reading), that doesn’t mean I feel equipped to cover Shakespeare with my teens.

We have been working with materials from WordPlay Shakespeare recently, and these are fantastic. These iBooks certainly harness the power of technology. This review will focus on Macbeth, but know that this also applies to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I presume the Romeo and Juliet iBook is similar also.

There are two main parts to the WordPlay materials: text and performance.

The iBook includes the complete text of the play from original sources on the left half of the screen. This is the “old” language that I remember sometimes struggling to grasp. With one little tap (“Tap to Translate”), a modern version pops up on the right side of the screen so you can look back and forth between them and figure out some of the strange phrases.

Each scene starts off with a synopsis that gives a basic outline of that scene, including numbered images (on the right side of the screen) to help you track who is who and to give a brief visual outline. The characters in that scene have little pictures at the bottom of the page. You can tap that icon to get a character description, which helps immensely with keeping track of just who these people all are.

You have the usual app functions that allow you to look up dictionary definitions, highlight text, add your own notes, or share to social media or email.

The other portion is the performance. On the right half of the screen, you have video clips of every word of the play performed by professionals. It only includes the text from that page of the script, so no worries about getting lost. The actors have simple costumes, there is no scenery, and there are few props.

The simplicity helps you to focus on the acting. Lady Macbeth, for instance, wears a simple black dress as she reads aloud from the letter she received from Macbeth, all against a plain white background. When she is dressed more formally, it is with that same black dress adorned with a sash of red and black plaid.

You can watch the production, page by page. You can read along as you hear the lines spoken. You can play the scene repeatedly, pause it, or jump ahead.

It is the combination of these two parts that makes WordPlay Shakespeare work so well. Shakespeare isn’t meant to be read; it is meant to be seen. That means when you simply read a play, you are missing so much. If you just watch the play, it goes by so fast, and it is difficult to grasp the meaning, too.

WordPlay puts the two parts side by side so you can watch and read, a page at a time. They say, “Half the Page is a Stage” with WordPlay. This is genius. At just $9.99 per play, I know I fully intend to purchase everything they put out.

This works on iPads with at least iBooks 3. It also runs on a Mac with OS X 10.9 or later.

-Product review by Debra Brinkman, Assistant Director, The Schoolhouse Review Crew, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2015