Pros: Extraordinarily thorough. Easy to use. Sir Ian McKellen.
Cons: Your friends will tire of you quoting Shakespeare.
Shakespeare died on May 3, 1616. That’s a cheery start, is not it? His talent and magnificence is being celebrated throughout the world in 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. The Prospect Playhouse Theatre has already staged one production relating to the Bard – “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” – and will be welcoming the Cambridge American Stage Tour of “As You Like It” to Cayman at the beginning of September.
It therefore seemed only fitting for me to review a Shakespeare-related app at some point.
Having read “Merchant of Venice” back to front in high school (test me on Portia’s speech sometime) and acted in “Romeo and Juliet” as Juliet’s nurse, I figured I’d be well on top of anything written by the legendary playwright.
I decided to go with Heuristic Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” app, once I discovered that “heuristic” means “enabling a person to learn or discover something for themselves.” I was learning something already!
It promised to break down the beloved play, making it easy to understand, with video accompaniment.
That was all I needed to hear. I could say “Lead on, Macduff!” but as any Shakespeare lover knows, that is an oft misquoted line. Let the education begin.
From the moment you open this app, you’ll see that it is going to be involved, thorough, and fascinating. Its representative icon is a caricature of Sir Ian McKellen, famed British actor, who provides audio and video clips for the app.
The main menu features: The Play at a Glance, Character Map View, My Highlights and Notes, Shakespeare’s World & Times, Essays, Videos and Performances, The First Folio, and finally, App Credits.
The Play at a Glance is fairly self-explanatory, and yet “at a glance” might be understating it a bit. All underlined words in the text can be tapped to explain their meaning in the context, and you can get the benefits of imagery and more, depending on how deep you go.
Ordinarily, I would give lots of instructions in my reviews on how to use an app, but in this case it would be ridiculous of me to reinvent the wheel.
If you tap on the ?“” symbol in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, it will take you to in-depth explanations of how to use the app to its greatest advantage. It tells you how to navigate the play, add notes, search the text, explore characters and learn more about Shakespeare, all via video instruction in the soothing tones of McKellen.
The cog symbol next to the ?“” transports you to the settings section, where you can customize the look of the app and toggle preferences on video downloads.
Finally, just to round up that corner, is the universal search icon of a magnifying glass. Tap it to search the text for a specific word or phrase.
“The Tempest” has five acts, and each act is assigned its own color to help you recognize the sections more easily.
You can tap any number down the right-hand side to jump to an act or scene, and if at any point you wish to return to the main menu, simply tap on the three stacked lines in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
The person symbol in the bottom middle, when selected, shows you which characters feature in what scenes, with the names under images of the actors who play them. You’ll probably recognize Sir Derek Jacobi there in the mix.
When I tried it
I found “The Tempest” app pretty overwhelming when I first opened it. Kinda reminded me of when I opened my first Shakespeare play – I felt like an idiot. After tapping away randomly, and starting videos more through trial and error than choice, I finally discovered that magical ?“” icon, and from there it was smooth sailing.
The app is very well designed, and attractive to look at. Once you’ve used it for a while, I’m sure you would concur that no stone has been left unturned here. Thanks to its user-friendly options and video enhancements, it’s like Rosetta Stone for Shakespeare: A language that was once foreign suddenly becomes familiar.
I could not wait to start quoting from it at my next social outing.
You should start this app with patience and head straight to that help section before going any further. You can, of course, try to work it out for yourself, but this really guides you well, and gets you into the groove of what the app looks like.
Apparently this is the first of 37 separate apps; quite the undertaking.
If you’ve ever considered trying to learn more about Shakespeare and his great works, “The Tempest” app is the place to start.
Oh, and did I mention Sir Ian McKellen? Need I say more?