In the latest effort to use digital technology to transform how consumers, students and teachers engage classic literature, Sourcebooks is releasing The Shakesperience, enhanced e-books that exploit the iPad’s touchscreen technology to bring Shakespeare’s plays to life in new ways with a rich selection of carefully chosen multimedia and text. Sourcebooks is releasing Shakesperience editions of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Othello today, selling for $9.99 via Apple’s iBookstore.

In an interview at the PW offices, Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah, who has a history of adapting classic literature using digital technology, said the company developed The Shakesperience e-books after soliciting a wide variety of feedback from teachers and theater professionals on the difficulty of presenting Shakespeare to modern audiences and students. “Students, professors and actors all complain about the problem of getting into the language of Shakespeare,” she said.

The Shakesperience editions, she explained, use the iPad’s technology to deliver multimedia elements like video and audio interviews and scenes from classic Shakespeare films and stage productions to engage readers and provide deep context for virtually every aspect of the play. All this supporting content is available to the users with a touch or swipe on the iPad interface.

The Shakesperience editions of the classic plays offer a glossary embedded in the text (the Othello glossary, she said, has more than 1,400 definitions), along with introductions and commentary by theater professionals like Sir Derek Jacoby and Andrew Wade of the Royal Shakesepeare company. The e-books offer video and audio presentations of classic scenes and performances from such actors as Orson Welles, Paul Robeson, Dame Judie Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Sir Laurence Olivier, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sir John Gielgud and many others, available throughout the digital edition by just touching or swiping the screen. There’s more: the e-book provides presentations that examine individual scenes in different ways, offering analysis, historical context and interviews with full casts and directors, galleries of images of costume and set design and interviews with voice coaches on how to approach the Bard’s various characters, language and scenes. The result is an interactive learning environment that offers access to the content of the plays and the highest level of expertise on their production and interpretation. The enhanced e-books also offer the standard ability to make notes, bookmark and highlight the text.

While the e-books offer a lot of video, Raccah said teachers actually prefer more audio tracks--“teachers tell us video is lean back and passive, while audio forces students to engage the text.” While the e-books favor audio content, Raccah said the company plans to adjust the amount and balance of audio and video as they receive feedback from educators after the initial release of The Shakesperience editions. Sourcebooks spent two years getting all the permissions needed for the embedded content and Raccah highlighted the e-books ability to convey, “how to speak Shakespeare,” she said. “When students see this, everything changes. Teachers are thrilled and tell us, they can start teaching right away,” Raccah said, “because the students can more easily understand the language.”

Additional plays will be released in the coming months and Raccah said The Shakesperience editions offer the possibility for upgrades offering new content, either for free or for a charge. She also said Sourcebooks plans to launch an accompanying website offering teacher resources. “We've taken what has traditionally been a difficult and generic experience, and provided the opportunity for more engaged and lively learning,” she said. “We suspect enthusiasts will love it, but what we’re most excited about is the impact it will have on educators and students.”