Title: Shakespeare in Bits: Macbeth
Cost: $14.99; free lite version available which includes two scenes; district pricing available
When I learned about Shakespeare in Bits at the fall 2012 YALSA Lit Symposium in St. Louis, it seemed like a great fit for our English Language Learners (ELLs), who are assigned Macbeth in 10th grade. Animation, audio and text combine to offer the reader a multimodal approach to reading and understanding Macbeth. After playing with the lite version, I wanted to see more.
The free, two-scene version of Shakespeare in Bits did not prepare me for the complexity of the full version of the app. The audio portion of Macbeth (copyright 1998, from Naxos Audiobooks) lists a cast of twenty actors. Their voices are clear and unique, with authentic accents that hold your attention. The pale faces of the animated characters shine against a high definition landscape drawn in shades of blue and gray. That atmosphere works particularly well for the Three Witches, who appear in an early scene, cackling on a hill top in the rain, and I found myself looking forward to their next appearance.
Animated scenes are told in several sections with text running simultaneously down the side of the screen. Dialog is highlighted in red as the actors deliver their lines. Incidental rollover notes and clickable definitions further aid understanding. There are toggles to turn on “auto advance” and “show subtitles.” The subtitles, helpful as you get acquainted with the actors’ accents, are opaque enough to see through to the animation. A menu bar at the bottom of the screen links to character bios, play analysis and a personal notebook section. When the app is closed, scenes will resume where the reader left off .
The animation is engaging, but I found the dialog to be too fast and the accents are unfamiliar enough that I had to toggle on the subtitles, forcing me to abandon reading the text of the play on the sidebar, which I needed for those incidental rollovers to help with meaning… you get the point. I wanted eliminate the text sidebar, and expand the animation to full screen with subtitles on. But wouldn’t that just be an animated movie of Macbeth with subtitles?
I really like this product and plan to try it with some teachers and students. I feel the most likely candidate for a successful learning experience with this particular reading and interpretation of Macbeth would be the student who has already read the play and is looking to deepen their understanding. Classroom teachers could select scenes for whole class viewing to clarify common misconceptions or challenges from the text of the play. Also, students who need to review for a quiz could grab a library iPad for a quick review.
Other Shakespeare in Bits titles — Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caeser, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream – are available as in-app purchases.