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Bethany Nolan
IU Communications

Last modified: Monday, June 4, 2012

Shakespeare? There's an app for that, with help from IU English professor

June 4, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University associate English professor Ellen MacKay's work is making it possible to interact with Shakespeare in a whole new way.

She's part of an academic collaboration creating iPad applications for some of the Bard's most well-known plays, produced by South Bend-based Luminary Digital Media and featuring scholarly content from academics at universities such as Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard.

MacKay recently contributed to the lecture stream of "The Tempest," Luminary's debut effort, and will direct the app for "A Midsummer Night's Dream," expected to be released during the 2012-13 academic year.

The play applications allow for social reading, authoring and sharing, helping readers interact with the text in new ways. Each text is accompanied by expert commentaries from leading Shakespeare scholars and practitioners; features full-length, scrolling audio performance of the play by the internationally known Actors From the London Stage company; and can be customized and annotated by the user. The app also links directly to illustrations, podcasts, teaching materials and videos from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the world's premier destination for Shakespeare research.

"I'm just finishing up a fellowship with IDAH, IU's Institute for the Digital Arts and Humanities, which had made me think much more broadly and deeply about the digital world," MacKay said. "The manipulability, open-endedness and interactive components of this platform are really exciting.

"The app moves the process of reading a book away from an information-extraction model and turns it into an activity that brings an array of ideas and texts into a larger conversation. It keeps the text in constant but always changing contact with other works, other readers and other forms of cultural information. It provides teachers a handy way to show students that they're curators of their own context, and that the work is always open to new readings, new histories and new milieus."

MacKay, who holds degrees in theater and English from Barnard College and Columbia University, has taught at IU since 2002. IU's English Department is part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

MacKay saw her first Shakespeare production -- "Twelfth Night" -- at Stratford, England, when she was just 9. Her love of the stage and the playwright grew from there, spurring her to pursue a hybrid course of study involving theater and English.

"Shakespeare has such a strong history of criticism behind him, and there are so many points of view. There's just a lot of richness to the field, and that's why I continue to find it so attractive," she said. "For me, with my particular interest in theater history and performance studies, the iPad app couldn't be more a perfect platform to explore the many dimensions of Shakespeare scholarship and to convey them to a wider audience."

For more information about the "Tempest" application, visit It is available for download on iTunes.