App of the Week: The Sonnet Project

A perfect match of medium and mode: 14-line poems by the greatest writer who ever lived come to the smartphone

Published June 16, 2013 6:00PM (EDT)

                  (<a href=''>silver tiger</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(silver tiger via Shutterstock/Salon)

I just watched one of Shakespeare's sonnets on my iPhone. Well, "watched" isn't quite right. I simmered in Shakespeare's warm embrace. I shuddered before his articulate majesty. I sat stunned, amazed at how moving the words of a writer who died four centuries ago sounded, coming out of a screen that fit in the palm of my hand. A man for all media, indeed.

And then I said, please, can I have another?

"The Sonnet Project" is an app released in May by the Shakespeare Exchange. It is simple in concept, but absolutely exquisite in execution. Actors in various urban New York settings recite one of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. Ten are already accessible via the app, about 70 are supposed to be in the can, and the plan is to release every single sonnet as an Internet video over the year leading up to Shakespeare's 450th birthday.

The cinematography is creative, the musical accompaniment is sublime and the readings scratch handfuls of pain and beauty out of your very soul. Love, lust, betrayal -- that guy Will Shakespeare, he was the real deal.

But best of all, the medium and the message match! I'd have a hard time sitting still to watch an entire Shakespearean play on a small screen, but a sonnet is the perfect length. The clips are short: You can log in to the app, watch a sonnet, and log out in the time it takes to reheat your leftovers in the microwave for lunch. And yet you still get walloped: There is so much verbal dexterity and intensity contained in the 14 lines of a Shakespearean sonnet that a single video packs the punch of an episode of "The Wire." This is high culture packaged for the attention-deficit-disorder generation. Excuse me while I go listen to another one.

Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits,

When I am sometime absent from thy heart,

Thy beauty, and thy years full well befits,

For still temptation follows where thou art.

Sonnet 41

The Shakespeare Exchange describes its mission as providing "fresh points of entry to the work so that modern audiences will be exposed to the intrinsic power of Shakespeare." It's a tribute both to how beautifully these clips are crafted and to Shakespeare's enduring mastery of the English language just how well the Sonnet Project pulls this off.

Shakespeare's in my phone. The entire mobile information ecosystem has been justified.

For Android and iOS.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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App Of The Week Shakespeare Sonnets The Sonnet Project