IU English professor wraps up project directing Shakespeare iPad app

With the flick of a finger, IU associate English professor Ellen MacKay navigated through her iPad, pointing out her favorite images embedded within the newly-released scholarly application she directed for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Rackham ink and watercolor

Arthur Rackham, 1867-1939. The artist’s illustrations to Midsummer night’s dream were among his most successful designs. This one is included in the app Ellen MacKay directed for Luminary Digital Media.

The app helps readers interact with Shakespeare’s well-known text in new ways. Among other things, it features expert commentaries from leading scholars; full-length audio performances by renowned actors; and links to illustrations, podcasts, teaching materials and videos from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the world’s top destination for Shakespeare research.

As director, MacKay worked with scholars to solicit their commentary and pulled together the details that make the app such a rich resource for scholars and students alike. But, she admitted, sorting through the Folger’s immense collection of images was the part of the project she enjoyed most.

“There’s such an amazing history of illustrated Shakespeare,” she said. “His work has triggered artists to represent his fictional worlds in a diverse array of styles. The Victorian era was particularly fun, in part because there’s no real connection to the text in performance: You find miniature fairies and talking babies and all these very ethereal, unrealizable images.

Ellen MacKay

Ellen MacKay

MacKay worked with South Bend-based Luminary Digital Media on the app, the third in a series being created by an academic consortium. “Midsummer” was selected for the platform since it’s one of Shakespeare’s most-taught plays, particularly in middle and high schools where tablets are quickly becoming more popular than physical textbooks.

“So many middle and high schools are adapting to the tablet platform. Students are able to connect to a paperback, but with the app, they get scholarly commentary that is designed to help them find a way in to the text,” she said. “Across the country, ‘Midsummer’ is the most common entry point for Shakespeare, with many students reading it in the sixth grade. This edition radically increases the play’s accessibility, by providing friendly guidance from leading scholars along the way. Students can simultaneously listen to the verse, look at the artistic renderings of the play’s key scenes, annotate the text, edit and add to it, and depending on how wired they want to be, they can share their work across social media. The play becomes a truly interactive text, and offers different ways for those with different learning styles to really dive in.”

Additional information about the project is available on Luminary’s website. Download the “Midsummer” app there, as well as apps for “Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

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