Augmenting Shakespeare

Background: In undergrad, I was a Dean’s Scholar in Shakespeare. In the two-year program, I enrolled in several courses related to Shakespeare. I watched performances in DC, London, and Stratford-upon-Avon. When I attended a show, I had the best experience when I knew the play well. The problem with Shakespeare is that once you’re out of focus, joining the play again is difficult.

Project Scope: I created three playbills – one history, comedy, and romance. Each one is separated into before, intermission, and reflection sections. Therefore, the viewer may learn throughout the whole experience. Additionally, I tested whether augmented reality can enhance retention and learning. AR allows for greater interactivity with subject material, such as images, video, and audio. In total, I performed four usability tests with students at New York University.

Richard III

Type: Tragedy

Features: The playbill contains AR static models related to the Tower of London, which may be customized in terms of size and rotation. Every playbill also contains an AR character map that replaces the traditional long character list found in playbills.

Feedback: While my user testers enjoyed the items that explained history, they desired audio.

The Tempest

Type: Romance

Features: The playbill contains an AR character map and video that explains the main themes of the play. Based on feedback, I chose a stage directly related to a ship from the play.

Feedback: Students disliked the video the most due to the lack of flexibility and interactivity.

As You Like It

Type: Comedy

Features: The playbill contains an AR character map and AR buttons that explain four themes: lovers, gender, change, and wisdom. Each button is a short audio clip, which allows for greater flexibility.

Feedback: Students enjoyed this playbill the most for learning. As the main focal point, the AR component simplifies complex concepts.


I learned that three AR elements is too distracting. The greatest benefit of AR is providing more context. I decided to replace a character list with a character map. They save space and may show the relationships between characters. The ones I found online, however, do not show the relationships in the beginning of the play. I changed that and placed the main protagonist in the center.

My biggest surprise is how AR should not be optional but rather the main focal point. Once you introduce an element in one playbill, the others need to follow. As my playbills became more complex, my users desired 3D models and audio. Based on my testing, As You Like It is the strongest playbill. The AR buttons allow for flexibility, which is an asset when learning.

Next Steps

I only tested with NYU students. They focused a great deal on the AR elements and not the content itself. In my next steps, I would like to see how my interpretation of the most important parts of each play align with Shakespeare scholars. I would like to pair with a theatre company and develop an educational playbill together.