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Daily Mac App: Shakespeare in Bits (updated)

While William Shakespeare's works are revered and deserve the praise, it's hard to grasp what's going on in his plays at times, especially if you're just starting your studies. While the language is still English, at times it is as foriegn to us as the words "iPhone," "iPad," "tweet" or "LOL" would be to the Bard.

Mindconnex Learning Limited is helping to bridge the cultural gap through its series of desktop, iPhone and iPad software, Shakespeare in Bits. Shakespeare's plays are broken down into short bites. When a play is loaded, you can see a list of characters and detailed plot analysis exploring themes, imagery, language and more.

The plays themselves are broken down by act, then by scene, then into smaller chunks of text. Animation is on one side while a menu on the right lets a user toggle between the play text, notes and a synopsis. In text mode, symbols beside the lines give more insight into the context and clicking highlighted words reveals the modern equivalent.

I checked out a trial version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," ironically the first Shakespeare play I ever read as a child, and immensely enjoyed it. The animation is simple, but does a good job at conveying the action. The voice acting is extremely well-done. As the animated scenes run, the play text highlights the person speaking at that time. Subtitles can be shown, and the play can either auto-advance or stop after each bit is played.

The version of Shakespeare in Bits directly from its website, available as a trial, runs on Adobe Air. The Mac App Store versions are native Cocoa apps and has a slightly different multiwindow interface. Retail price is $19.99 per play with "Romeo and Juliet" and "Macbeth" currently available in addition to "A Midsummer Night's Dream." While this might seem steep, these are a good investment as plays such as "Romeo and Juliet" tend to come up repeatedly in high school and college, and this is an excellent learning tool.

Updated: Clarified the differences between the Mac App Store and website builds of the Shakespeare in Bits programs.

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