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The famed actor, who first began performing at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1970s, has launched the first in a series of iPad apps meant to enhance everyone’s experience of watching a Shakespeare production.

To app, or not to app, that is the question. Or at least it was for Sir Ian McKellen, who answered by launching a series of 37 apps, one to accompany each Shakespearean play, as Open Culture reports. The series, called Heuristic Shakespeare, will serve as a robust educational tool for anyone wishing to experience the plays as they were meant to be consumed: dramatically brought to life. “Shakespeare didn’t intend for you to read these plays,” the actor reminds us. “Anyone who finds studying Shakespeare difficult should remember that.”

Yes, There Is an App for That

As any former middle and high schooler can remember, reading Shakespeare’s plays can prove profoundly frustrating and opaque without adequate guidance. For many, the works may as well have been written in a different language, so different was the vocabulary and syntax. McKellen hopes that his apps for the iPad, specifically targeting high school and college students, will make reading Shakespeare a more digestible and thus enjoyable experience for all.

The app allows its users to watch actors read the lines as the corresponding text scrolls below, bringing the play to life and thereby “demystifying Shakespeare.” In the process of developing the app, its creators conducted research finding that children and young adults understand a text much more easily while watching someone read it. The apps go a step further, offering three levels of accompanying notes for readers to choose between, depending on their reading ability.

Among the app’s other special features are: full explanations and backgrounds of every character, a linked historical timeline of Shakespeare’s life, discussions on the play and its themes from Sir Ian McKellen himself and Professor Sir Jonathan Bate, and the functionality to highlight passages and take notes as you read. All in all, the app is sure to be a hit — Benedict Cumberbatch is already a huge fan, as seen on YouTube.

Apps and Education

McKellen’s venture emerges at a time when the educational potential of apps is just starting to be fully realized. Since the launch of Apple’s App Store in 2008, more than 80,000 apps have been developed for educational purposes, as the International Business Times explains, while 75% of K-12 teachers report that they hold a positive opinion of educational technology, according to Kurzweil Education. This may not be surprising considering the myriad benefits of these apps, which motivate students to learn by engaging them with hands-on interaction, while also empowering them to learn at their own pace.

Moreover, this technology has reaped tangible benefits in the classroom: iPad-using kindergarteners in Auburn, Maine, outscored their iPad-less peers in literacy tests, and UC-Irvine medical students equipped with mobile technology scored 23% higher on national exams than previous classes that weren’t outfitted with iPads.

Shall I Compare Thee to an App?



The promise of apps as useful educational tools only continues to grow, and McKellen’s Heuristic Shakespeare is a testament to the versatile ways in which apps can be integrated into school curriculums. Their potential is bound only by those who develop them, and McKellen proves you don’t have to be a programmer to create an innovative and successful app.

And If you don’t have a Tony-backed budget, you can turn to simple DIY platforms like AppMakr. With absolutely no coding experience required and an easy drag-and-drop interface, anyone can bring their app idea to life in a matter of minutes.

So what are you waiting for? Another minute gone by and it’ll be off with your head!