William Shakespeare once wrote: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” That seems to be the guiding philosophy behind a new line of Shakespeare e-books from Sourcebooks that seeks to demystify the playwright’s work.
Called the Shakesperience and available through iTunes’ iBookstore for $9.99 per title, the e-books use audio readings, a glossary, photos from notable performances and other tools to help student readers better understand Shakespeare’s famously challenging texts.
Currently available for “Hamlet,” “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet,” the Shakesperience “came from watching people try to learn Shakespeare,” said Dominique Raccah, who heads Sourcebooks, based in Naperville, Ill.
Two years ago, Raccah said, she started visiting high school and university classrooms and found that “educators were doing things like playing videos, playing games, having students role play, but as one of them told me, ‘At some point, the student has to face the text,’” which, on the page, is very flat and written in a language students don’t understand.
“I’m a real believer in the Steve Jobs mantra that you start with the customer experience and you go backward to the technology,” she said.
If the customer experience is deciphering Shakespeare, the technology that helps do so involves several features that tackle the many barriers to understanding. Each title features an embedded glossary, which in “Othello,” for example, includes more than 1,400 terms. Those terms are also put into context to help explain what they mean within the action of the play.
Because video is a passive experience, especially when the play is presented in its entirety, the Shakesperience books incorporate multiple audio renditions and still photos from famous performances that help amplify certain portions of a play. “Hamlet” includes audio performances by Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud that are available with the touch of a button. “Othello” features historic readings from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edwin Booth. “Romeo and Juliet” has offerings from Judi Dench.
The next Shakesperience title is scheduled to be “Macbeth” (available in November), followed by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Julius Caesar” (available early next year).