“A whole theatre of others”: Amateur Acting and Immersive Spectatorship in the Digital Shakespeare Game Play the Knave

Abstract

This essay uses the case study of the digital game Play the Knave to unpack the historical and theoretical value of declamatory acting to Shakespeare performance. Analysis of the game as a digital object and observations of people playing it when it has been installed in Shakespeare theaters and arts venues reveal continuities between the material practices of acting in Shakespeare’s day and our own, as players adopt a declamatory style of gesture when they play. We maintain that in much the way the declamatory style functioned in the early modern period as a sign of and a means for amateur performance, so this style can facilitate and mediate communal, collaborative Shakespeare theater today, helping to develop among a wide public new pleasures and competencies in Shakespeare performance.

Figure 1. Users of "Play the Knave" in the Stratford Festival Theatre lobby. Photo by Scott Wishart, courtesy of The Stratford Beacon Herald. Figure 1. Users of "Play the Knave" in the Stratford Festival Theatre lobby. Photo by Scott Wishart, courtesy of The Stratford Beacon Herald. Figure 2. Users of "Play the Knave" in the University of Iowa Libraries. The game was installed in the Main Library Learning Commons on 7 September 2016, coinciding with the UI Libraries’ exhibition of the First Folio as part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s national tour, "First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare." Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa Libraries. Figure 2. Users of "Play the Knave" in the University of Iowa Libraries. The game was installed in the Main Library Learning Commons on 7 September 2016, coinciding with the UI Libraries’ exhibition of the First Folio as part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s national tour, "First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare." Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa Libraries. Figure 3. J[ohn] B[ulwer], "Chirologia: or The naturall language of the hand" (London, 1644), page 155. Folger Shakespeare Library Shelfmark: B5462. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Figure 3. J[ohn] B[ulwer], "Chirologia: or The naturall language of the hand" (London, 1644), page 155. Folger Shakespeare Library Shelfmark: B5462. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Figure 4. Examples of emojis, provided free by EmojiOne (http://emojione.com/) under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License. Design arrangement by Elle Luo. Figure 4. Examples of emojis, provided free by EmojiOne (http://emojione.com/) under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License. Design arrangement by Elle Luo. Figure 5. Detail from J[ohn] B[ulwer], "Chirologia: or The naturall language of the hand" (London, 1644), sig. F1r. Folger Shakespeare Library Shelfmark: B5462. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Examples of emojis, provided free by EmojiOne (http://emojione.com/) under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License. Design arrangement by Elle Luo. Figure 5. Detail from J[ohn] B[ulwer], "Chirologia: or The naturall language of the hand" (London, 1644), sig. F1r. Folger Shakespeare Library Shelfmark: B5462. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Examples of emojis, provided free by EmojiOne (http://emojione.com/) under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License. Design arrangement by Elle Luo. Figure 6. Screenshots from Mekanimator, the platform developed by the UC Davis ModLab to run "Play the Knave." Screenshots taken by Nicholas Toothman. Design arrangement by Elle Luo. Figure 6. Screenshots from Mekanimator, the platform developed by the UC Davis ModLab to run "Play the Knave." Screenshots taken by Nicholas Toothman. Design arrangement by Elle Luo. Figure 7. Users of "Play the Knave" at the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare Competition, where the game was installed, 2–3 October 2015. Photo courtesy of Michael Bahr. Figure 7. Users of "Play the Knave" at the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare Competition, where the game was installed, 2–3 October 2015. Photo courtesy of Michael Bahr.

Essay