Thomas J. Grace, S.J. Memorial Lecture: “Virtual Shakespeare” by Dr. Rebecca Bushnell

Grace Bromage ‘23

Chief Features Editor

Graphic Design by Hui Li ’21.

This year’s Grace Lecture was on “Virtual Shakespeare” by Dr. Rebecca Bushnell. Bushnell is the School of Arts and Sciences Board of Advisors Emerita Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and brought an interesting take to Shakespeare in the 21st century. 

Bushnell started her lecture by posing the question: “how does digital technology redefine Shakespeare and performance?” As the world has entered a new age of technology, Shakespeare’s plays have undergone more adaptations than just movies. Now, many of these plays, especially Hamlet, have been turned into video games or adapted to virtual reality. This topic is what Bushnell set out to explore.

Bushnell asserted that Hamlet itself has game-like elements between the role of theater for the plotline and the physical and vocal sparring that takes place between characters. Hamlet is also filled with complex characters for whom Shakespeare explores their psychology and motivations. This allows it to adapt well to videogames containing lively characters and complex storylines. 

Bushnell detailed two Hamlet-inspired video games. The first game was “To Be Or Not To Be.” “To Be Or Not To Be” was originally a choose-your-own-ending graphic novel. In this form, it  allows game-players to explore alternate endings of the iconic play. “Elsinore,” the second-game mentioned by Bushnell, allows players to explore Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective. The game diversifies Hamlet and allows players to choose to play as a biracial Opheila and interact with Shakespeare’s Othello. Game-players will also find that they are able to grapple with Ophelia’s agency or lack thereof throughout the course of the game.

Bushnell also described “Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit,” a virtual reality game. This game allows the spectator to be brought into the action. Players can observe Hamlet from different angles and characters frequently “make eye-contact” with players. This gives players a unique experience of the play, even amongst other players

Bushnell asserted that Shakespeare has always been remade and retold, even back in the 17th century. However, modern technology allows for Shakespeare to be retold in ways that were not possible before. Bushnell herself engaged in a multiplayer live role playing game of The Tempest. This new “virtual Shakespeare” landscape allows for community building, increased accessibility, and a heightened connection to the characters for readers and admirers of Shakespeare’s work.

Elsinore and To Be Or Not To Be can be played on computer terminal #30 in the west wing of Dinand. Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit can be played using the YouTube app on a smartphone.  

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