“User interface.” It’s not usually where you start talking about Shakespeare.
But it’s where this story starts.
This is how we typically teach Shakespeare, whether in high school or in college.
The current experience of learning and reading Shakespeare
If you ask students about this experience, they use words like “difficult“ and “boring.” And if you watch them actually trying to learn that way, you recognize the problem. The way the book is set up actually interrupts their “flow”—it gets in the way of their immersion.
Just think about what happens as soon as you don’t understand a word you read and you’ll see what I mean. Every time you look up a word, you’re interrupting the "reading the play/immersion" part of the process and are starting a different process. “Now what line was that?” you’ll think, “And where am I? What did that mean again?”
Educators will tell you this experience is a major hurdle. One high school English teacher said to us that “it takes about 3 weeks to get kids into Shakespeare.” By the way, stage performers say the same thing — it takes time for audiences to get comfortable with the language and at some point (usually 15-20 minutes into the show) the audience “clicks over.”
So with all these inherent challenges, we asked can we use technology to make reading Shakespeare easier?
We’ve been working with students, teachers and readers on this very question and today we’re launching Shakesperience: A hands-on experience with Shakespeare—an experience that was built to help you more quickly get into and stay in the play, because it was built from the user’s point of view.
A quick word about the process of answering that question. We’ve been building these interactive editions for a while, and the process has been incredibly iterative. We put the books into people’s hands, watched what they did (and didn’t do). We asked questions, rebuilt and tweaked some more, and then we tried it all over again.
What we can tell you from working with all these users is that the Shakesperience supports all different kinds of learning:
This is obviously only the beginning for us, but it’s a thrilling start. Just watching people use The Shakesperience has been a real joy. We hope it can transform and energize how students learn, and think it can change the way you read Shakespeare.
I’d love to hear what you think.