Review: The Sonnets by William Shakespeare for iPad

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The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare is a superb new app that brings Shakespeare’s sonnets to the iPad and presents them in a way that draws you in and helps you to gain a rich understanding of them.

Here’s a portion of the App Store entry for the app:

The Sonnets presents William Shakespeare’s immortal collection of love poems in an interactive digital edition that allows you to explore, appreciate and understand this great work of literature as never before. All 154 sonnets are performed to camera by a star-studded cast including Sir Patrick Stewart (Star Trek, X-Men, Royal Shakespeare Company), David Tennant (Dr Who, Hamlet), Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City), Fiona Shaw (The Waste Land, Harry Potter), Stephen Fry (The Hobbit) and Dominic West (The Wire). These performances – all specially filmed for the app – are synchronised to the text, which highlights line by line as each sonnet is spoken.

The performance videos, running over two and a half hours, are just the beginning. Also included are the complete Notes and Introduction from the Arden Shakespeare, offering unsurpassed scholarly commentary and insight. Touch a mysterious line or difficult word in any of the poems and the corresponding Arden Note highlights to provide comprehensive explanation. An alternative commentary on every sonnet comes from poet and musician Don Paterson, whose humorous and accessible style complements the academic rigour of the Arden Notes.

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app
I had to study Shakespeare back in my school days. I never became a huge fan, though I enjoyed Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice quite a lot, and I don’t remember much at all about any exposure to his sonnets. We probably had some – I just don’t recall it. So I came to this app with no foundation to build on, and just about zero knowledge about the sonnets.

And I’m happy to say that proved to be no obstacle at all in terms of thoroughly enjoying the app or in terms of appreciating the app’s content.  I’ve learned an enormous amount about the sonnets and it’s been a real pleasure thanks to The Sonnets app.

The app looks great right from its opening screen. It’s elegant and the UI stays mostly out of the way while still making it easy and intuitive to discover the app’s wonderful content. The interface for the Performances section is especially well done. It’s a grid of photos of the readers / performers. You tap to choose a reader and you get a popover with a brief bio and a listing of the sonnets read by them. A quick pinch inwards takes you back to the grid. A tap on any of the sonnets listed takes you to the video reading.

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app

Needless to say, the performances are brilliant. All of the actors and scholars who do the readings have wonderful voices and really bring the sonnets to life. Simon Callow is one of many favorites of mine.

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app

When you’re viewing a performance there’s a nice slider at the top of the screen to give you one tap access to all the other performances, and you can view All, or recently viewed, or those you’ve marked as favorites.

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app

The interface lets you switch easily from video performances to the text of each sonnet. The text is accompanied by the Arden Notes, Commentary, and My Notes sections in the left sidebar. The notes and commentary help you to understand the language and themes in the poems and also provide history and details on the thoughts of leading scholars regarding each sonnet.

The videos run in the page and you can tap anywhere on them to make them play or pause. Of course they can be tapped to view in full-screen mode as well. The app also has AirPlay support so you can view them on a big HDTV screen with Apple TV.

The Perspectives section is fascinating as well. It offers videos of the actors, theater folk, and eminent scholars – giving their thoughts on a broad range of questions about the sonnets. These include what is a sonnet, what are the sonnets about, the sonnet form, Shakespeare’s contribution to the sonnets, dating the sonnets, who are the sonnets addressed to, are the sonnets autobiographical, sex in the sonnets, the stories of the sonnets, sound of the sonnets, the sound of the original pronunciation, and Time and love as themes.

Again, the interface is very nicely done here and lets you explore the perspectives section by themes or by the people discussing them.

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app

The Sonnets by William Shakespeare iPad app

There’s even an American professor, James Shapiro, who is brilliant in both the Perspectives and Performances sections.


The app is full of nice little touches as well. You can favorite a sonnet from any of the viewing sections and share the sonnets via email, Facebook and Twitter. There’s a search bar to find words from within all the sonnets. You can make your own notes on the sonnets too.

Overall this is a just a wonderful iPad app. I think it makes the sonnets approachable and interesting even for those of us who never appreciated them back in our school days. For those who are already enthusiastic about these poems the app should be a real treasure trove.

It also looks like an absolute star for use in classrooms. The Performances and Perspectives sections alone should help greatly in getting students engaged with the content – and the notes and commentary sections offer insight and deeper understanding of what they’re discovering.

This is another fine example of what makes for the very best in this category of iPad apps – great content as the starting point and a great interface that leads you to getting maximum enjoyment from that content.

Here’s an App Store link for The Sonnets by William Shakespeare; it’s priced at $13.99

Disclosure: This app was independently purchased by the post author. For information on our review policies please see our About page.

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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