Stuff We Like: WordPlay Shakespeare

Posted: Monday, January 13th, 2014


Reading through a new-to-you Shakespeare play can be daunting, and even downright confusing. That’s why the staff was so excited to learn about WordPlay Shakespeare. The WordPlay Shakespeare series from The New Book Press puts a full filmed performance of Shakespeare’s plays next to the bard’s text, on a tablet or desktop computer. In a salute to one of Shakespeare’s most famous phrases, the WordPlay Shakespeare slogan states that “Half the page is a Stage.” Guest blogger Alexander Parker writes about this innovative way to experience Shakespeare’s work.


Imagine a friend telling you that there’s an amazing song that you have to hear, or an extremely tasty dish that you need to sample.

Now imagine that your friend hands you some sheet music and a recipe.

You’d probably be disappointed. And if you can’t read music and don’t cook, you’ll be even more disappointed—you might even be frustrated. To experience great music, you need to hear it; and to experience great food, you need to eat it. Sheet music and recipes are like a secret code that allow you to produce the actual sounds and tastes.

In a way, this is the same frustration that millions of middle and high school students and teachers face every year, when they read Shakespeare. That’s because Shakespeare’s plays were not written to be read—they were written to be be seen and heard. In other words, what we read and struggle with today is the ‘recipe’ for the performance. Add in the complexity of language that’s 450 years out of date, and you begin to understand why Shakespeare can be such a struggle.

We at The New Book Press think that if you put Shakespeare’s written word right next to a performance of the text, students and adults will have a much better understanding of Shakespeare’s language and work. The new generation of tablet computers that can show text and film on the same screen, or ‘page,’ allowed us to combine the bard’s writing with videos of actors performing the lines.

WordPlay Shakespeare

Over 500 students and their teachers tried the pilot version of WordPlay Shakespeare, and we confirmed that students from ages 12 and up understood Shakespeare’s words considerably faster than when reading the plays in their traditional format. Even better, students were able to enjoy Shakespeare much more. And teachers were able to spend less time explaining the modern translations of the words, and instead focused on themes and concepts that exercised students’ higher learning skills.

We also showed the books to adults, and we heard the same phrase again and again: “I wish I had had this when I was studying Shakespeare!”

We know that studying Shakespeare builds vocabulary, and improves complex reading and interpreting skills, with the major benefit of introducing us to one of the greatest literary minds of all time. Now, we also know that the process can be far more enjoyable and illuminating  if blossoming Shakespeare fans can see the performance right next to the words. The written words help you understand the performance, and the performance helps you understand the written words. Advanced students make faster progress, struggling students engage immediately, and teachers get to spend class time on more advanced topics. Furthermore, students with all different types of learning styles—like visual, auditory, and logical-mathematical—are all engaged.

As one teacher said to us: “Pretty much every middle and high school student in America has to read two or three of Shakespeare’s plays—this is just a smarter way to do it. This is the future.” We agree!

Thank you to Alexander for the guest post! Learn more about WordPlay Shakespeare, including their versions of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by clicking through to their website.

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