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Shakespeare, but not as we know it


From raps to apps, the Bard is being reimagined for the digital age

The World of Shakespeare festival is just drawing to a close, but its digital offspring will hopefully be with us for some time. The last few components of the My Shakespeare project, surveying all Bard-related activity online, are just starting to emerge, and they cover an extraordinary breadth of formats, from online and physical artworks to new renderings and visualisations of sonnets and plays.

Most of these works are available online and highlight how changing technology exposes us to new work in new ways. So it's good to see the RSC posting work to YouTube in the form of Kate Tempest's new poem "My Shakespeare", or Will Power's hip-hop version of Caliban's speech on Soundcloud. They've also been making the work of the theatre visible in different ways. Natalia Buckley's Alarum project senses noise and activity in the Stratford playhouse and broadcasts them to the web, while Tom Armitage's Spirits Melted Into Air reveals the uniqueness of each performance of Shakespeare by mapping actors' motion across the stage and turning it into abstract birch wood sculptures.

This mapping, connecting and revealing of places and themes continues in two Shakespeare apps. The first, Eye Shakespeare, also part of the My Shakespeare project, is a self-guided tour of Stratford allowing users to access the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's archive of audio, video and images. This huge and rarely seen archive maps its holdings to significant locations around the town. Meanwhile Macbeth: Explore Shakespeare from the Cambridge University Press uses a subway-style map to visualise the themes and storylines within the Scottish Play. In both of these, however, something is lost: the subtlety and the wit of the writing itself. Simply sticking maps and commentary into an app doesn't necessarily augment or improve the content, and readers might find more joy in artists' reinterpretations of the texts in new media than simple recitations of the old.

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