I was never a fan of Shakespeare when I was in school. Trying to make heads or tails out of Elizabethan English hurt my brain, and at the time, the ideas The Bard was trying to get across meant very little to me. I had my young hands full dealing with my own life. Why should I care about the lives and foolishness of a bunch of fictional characters dressed in silly clothes?
Of course, back then I couldn't, but more likely wouldn't see the parallels in the issues and events in my life and those of many of the character Ol' Bill wrote about. Nor would I hear any lesson whispered from the many failed plots, schemes and other shenanigans that were the focus of the Master's plays. I was young and blinded by the spectacle of television and movies, and books where the heroes fought with particle beam weapons and rode antigravity cycles instead of swords and horses.
Now that I'm (much) older I still find Shakespeare a bit hard to digest. The language is still a problem for me, especially since my attention span can be measured in femtoseconds. But the themes are something that I've taken an increased interest in. The trials of leadership, the waywardness and uncertainty of love, the tested bonds of family and friendship and so much more have real relevance in my modern life. Finding that the thoughts and issues I face today are similar to what many faced hundreds of years ago puts them in a certain perspective that doesn't minimize the problems or situations, but makes them appear more common, and not so insurmountable.
Ok, Othello is relevant in 2013. I'm onboard with that, but I still have to get pass the language to understand the play's appositeness. Being the tech-guy that I am, I've turned to my iOS devices for help, and I found a lot.
There are apps which translate Shakespearean English into modern prose, audio books that explain the meaning hidden under all those thous and haths, and all manner video content. But two free apps that I've found are proving themselves useful in getting inside Shakespeare's tales. So, without further ado, let's get to them.
Shakespeare [122 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.0 or later, Maker: Igor Zhadanov]
Shakespeare app in all its glory
The app's name is simple enough, it's all about Shakespeare. And I do me all. This freebie gives you all 41 plays, 154 sonnets, and 6 poems by the Master in one well organized app.
Everything is searchable, of course, but a search doesn't just tell you where the search text appears, it also delivers it in context. If that wasn't enough you can tap the any of the search results and be delivered to the scene or verse where the search item appears so that you can get the full contextual meaning.
There's also a synopsis of each scene, which is like a Reader's Digest version of the scene, but I suggest you read the original text anyway, because while the general ideas are laid out in the synopsis, how those ideas are expressed is really what makes Shakespeare worth reading.
Search gives good results
For instance, in All's Well That Ends Well, Act 1, Scene 1, the scene breakdown says that Parolles and Helena hold a somewhat pornographic and pun-filled dialogue about virginity. If you just read that then you would have missed this...
And a tap takes you to the content
"...Besides, virginity is peevish, proud, idle, made of self-love, which is the most inhibited sin in the canon. Keep it not, you cannot choose but lose by’t. Out with’t!"
While that passage playfully talks of the virtues of ridding oneself of virginity I also see it as an argument against inhibition in general. Something that definitely applies in today's world.
At 122 MB, Shakespeare is a sizable app, but it's well worth the space it takes up on you iOS device. And there are no ads!
SwipeSpeare [17.6 MB, all iOS devices iOS 6.0 or later, Maker: Golgatha Press Apps]
It's nice that the Shakespeare app gives you a synopsis of each scene, but wouldn't it be nicer if you could swipe your finger across a Shakespearean passage and have it instantly translated into modern English? That's the concept behind SwipeSpeare.
Pull up a play, sonnet or poem in either the modern or Shakespearean English version, swipe your finger across the text and it changes to the opposite version. Pretty cool. Be warned that the modern version can be almost as cryptic as the original text. That's because Shakespeare used a lot of symbolism in his prose, so you still have to think about what he's saying to get what he's saying. I count that as a good thing.
Text before finger swipe
Text after finger swipe
There's got to be a catch, right?
Yes, there is. SwipeSpeare gives you the first act of every play except for Romeo and Juliette, which is provided entirely for free. Full versions of the other 40 plays will cost you US$1.99 each or US$19.99 to unlock them all.
And there are ads, stuck right up top of the screen where it can cover text. Annoying. Buying the full version of any play turns off the ads for that play.
Even so, with Romeo and Juliette and the first act of the other plays free, there's enough content to keep you busy for a while. Not bad for a freebie.
That's a wrap for this week, but before I go I want to point you to some other free stuff.
This week's Free App of the Week is Cut the Rope, an addicting and ever-so-cute puzzler that already has a big following.