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Shakespeare’s Sonnets, app-style

May 20, 2017

Back in 2011 I wrote a post, a few in fact, on Touchpress‘s wonderful iPad app for TS Eliot‘s poem The wasteland. I love that app. It’s an excellent example of how interactive digital media can enhance learning about or enjoyment of literature, for a start, though Touchpress has applied its approach to a wide range of scientific and historical topics, including the solar system and Leonardo da Vinci’s Anatomy.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, Touchpress has also done one on Shakespeare’s sonnets, the whole 154 of them. It was released back in 2012 but I only bought it a year or so ago, when I decided it was time I became more familiar with this part of his oeuvre. So far I’ve only dipped into it, but have decided it’s worth posting on it now, rather than wait until I’ve finished it.

SHAKESPEARE SONNETS APP MENUSo this is an introduction rather than a proper review. The app follows a similar format to that used for Eliot, with some variations due to the work itself, and its age and particular history. It comprises the following menu items:

  • All 154 Sonnets in text form
  • Performances, by different people, such as Jemma Redgrave, David Tennant, and Stephen Fry, of each sonnet (filmed performances with the text synced to it)
  • Facsimile reproduction of the first published edition of the sonnets in 1969
  • Perspectives, that is, commentary on the sonnets, including their form, history and Shakespeare’s use of them, by various academics/Shakespearean scholars, such as Katherine Duncan-Jones, James Shapiro, Don Paterson – filmed talks, with transcript of the text.
  • Notes, that is, Arden’s detailed notes on each sonnet, including notes on individual lines.
  • Arden’s scholarly Introduction
  • Favourites, which as you’d assume allows users to save and share – yes – their favourites.

There is a Home icon so you can quickly return to the menu screen to navigate around the app. And there are also well thought through navigations. For example, on the screen containing the straight text of the sonnet are icons linking directly to the Notes, the filmed reading of the sonnet, and the Facsimile version. If you then  choose Notes, you get three tabs – Arden Notes (explanation of allusions and idioms, definitions of obsolete words, and the like), Commentary (critique) and My Notes (make your own notes).

As with all Shakespeare – given the unfamiliar-to-us language of his time – the sonnets come to life when read by people who know what they are doing.  You can read them in order, or navigate easily to particular sonnets. You can also read/hear them by performer, as when you touch a performer’s image up pops a windows listing the sonnets they perform.

Anna Baddeley, reviewing the app for The Guardian says

The Sonnets app, like its older sister The Waste Land, has the power to awaken passions (in my case, Shakespeare and poetry) you never knew you had. Reading outside and trying vainly to shield my iPad from the glare, I prayed the sun would go in so I could see what Don Paterson had to say about Sonnet 129.

Paterson’s commentary is the best thing about this app. It’s like sitting in the pub with a witty, more literary friend, who uses language such as “mind bouillabaisse” and “post-coital freak-out”. Most fascinating is his emphasis on the weirdness and borderline misogyny of the sonnets, a view echoed by the other academics interviewed for the app.

I don’t know Don Paterson, whom Wikipedia tells me is a Scottish poet, writer and musician, but Baddeley is right – in the sense that his commentaries are fresh, engaging, personal, funny and yet also meaningful. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re the best thing about the app, because it’s the whole that is important, but they certainly give it life.

This is not something to read in a hurry, and it is a BIG app, but how wonderful it is to have these sonnets so readily available on my iPad wherever I go.

Have you used this app, or would it interest you?

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s sonnets
iPad app
The Arden Shakespeare, Touch Press and Faber and Faber, 2012

27 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2017 17:21

    What do you mean by a BIG app? I have an iPad though I rarely use it, but I’m curious about how size is relevant to an app…

    • May 20, 2017 23:30

      I mean it’s 1.5Gb, Lisa, so it’s the fourth biggest user of storage on my iPad after photos, music and my yoga app. The wasteland is nearly 1 Gb. If you have a small iPad you can’t have too many apps of that size.

      • May 21, 2017 00:16

        Ah, I see. I’ve got no idea what the capacity of mine is. I bought it to use at school in my classes and I’ve barely touched it since retirement.

        • May 21, 2017 00:36

          look on the back of the device – it should give you the capacity there Lisa

        • May 21, 2017 19:15

          OK, will do. *chuckle* Will have to find it first…

        • May 21, 2017 19:17

          I guess there’s no point really, if you’re not interested, though beats me why not!! Love love love my iPad.

        • May 21, 2017 09:00

          What Karen says. Also Settings – General – About then Capacity. It gives you close ie mine is 128Gb and the capacity is 124.4Gb. The difference Is probably due to the Operating System.

          You can also see how much storage/capacity your device uses by going to Settings – General – Storage and iCloud Usage – Manage Storage. If you wait a second it will load all your apps, in order of how much they use. It also shows you ow much you’ve set and how much you have left.

          I love my iPad. I use it for do many things, but we’ve discussed this before haven’t we!

        • May 21, 2017 19:16

          *chuckle* The Spouse is devoted to his too, but we manage to have a happy marriage anyway!

        • May 21, 2017 19:19

          I always knew he was a sensible fellow!

  2. May 20, 2017 18:48

    I wish I was a little more tech-savvy. I’m not much of an app girl and my son laughs at me sitting at a table with three different texts in front of me when I am trying to come to grips with difficult works.

    • May 20, 2017 23:33

      There are apps and there are Apps, I’d say, Karenlee. This one is big in size but not complex to use.

  3. May 20, 2017 21:57

    This is such a cool idea for an app!! Though I definitely prefer to read away from a screen, there are some things (like the performances) that a paper book can’t offer.

    • May 20, 2017 23:35

      Me too Holly. That is, for reading I prefer print, but for learning, apps like this can be wonderful, I’ve found.

  4. May 21, 2017 00:37

    I saw this just before it was released when there were a few tasters available for free and thought it was wonderful. But then you know what, I forgot all about it. Since I acquired a new – bigger iPad for my birthday yesterday it seems the timing could be right to revisit this. The stars could well be in alignment

    • May 21, 2017 09:03

      And if you haven’t got The wasteland, Karen, I’d go for broke and get it too. It’s wonderful. It even has Eliot reading the poems. Unfortunately this one doesn’t have Shakespeare reading!

      • May 21, 2017 20:07

        I’d love to hear some of the sonnets in the accent Shakespeare would have used rather than ‘queen’s english’. The rhythms would have been rather different I suspect

        • May 21, 2017 23:39

          Ah, that’s a good point Karen. I wonder if any of the readers have attempted it. I’ve only listened to a few and they’ve sounded pretty contemporary good English to me. A couple of the “perspectives” though discuss some of this, e.g., there’s one on Pronunciation, but I haven’t listened to them yet.

        • May 22, 2017 18:57

          I saw something – might have been on You Tube – where David Crystal and his son read through one piece of text in the Midlands accent Shakespeare had. very illuminating. if I find the link I’ll send it your way

        • May 22, 2017 20:32

          Oh please do Karen, if you can find it.

        • May 23, 2017 05:53

          i found it – enjoy!

        • May 23, 2017 08:22

          Wow, that’s really fascinating Karen. Thanks so much for hunting it down. Scary, really, what we miss or might even completely misconstrue isn’t it?

        • May 24, 2017 05:49

          Some of the new meanings they uncover are fascinating and makes me wonder what more we have completely mis-understood

        • May 24, 2017 08:39

          Yes, absolutely. I loved heading the confidence with which they spoke of, but even more interesting, how they worked the sound out. Oh and how nice to see father and son sharing such a passion.

        • May 24, 2017 19:40

          Sadly the current director at the Globe has been hell bent on removing the unique nature of its productions – some of her latest offerings sound dreadful. fortunately she is going soon….

        • May 24, 2017 21:17

          Wow, that’s a shame Karen. Why would someone do that.

        • May 25, 2017 05:15

          It’s all in the name of making Shakespeare ‘accessible’ I fear

        • May 25, 2017 08:27

          You are probably right. 🙁

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