THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

15 February 2016

To game, or not to game: that is the question

For the fourth year running, the British Library has joined forces with GameCity to give budding videogame design students the opportunity to create interactive digital media inspired by our collections. The theme for this year's competition is Shakespeare, which coincides with the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death in 1616. Open to all UK-based Higher Education students, Shakespeare Off the Map presents an amazing opportunity to get creative with British Library content. Illustrations, engravings, maps and a varied selection of sounds have been pulled together by curators based around the following topics:

Castles - scenes of ghosts and murder in Shakespeare

Castles appear in several of Shakespeare's best known tragedies, from the battlements of Elsinore in Hamlet to the Scottish strongholds of Macbeth.

Boydell Hamlet
Hamlet, Horatio and the Ghost by Henry Fuseli.
From: A Collection of Prints, from pictures painted for the purpose of illustrating the Dramatic Works of Shakspeare [sic], by the Artists of Great Britain. Published: London 1803. Shelfmark: Tab.599.c

Sounds in this topic have been selected to help students create atmospheric soundtracks to bring their games to life. Focusing on the soundscapes surrounding these scenes of murder and vengeance, rather than the castles themselves, these recordings include brooding weather and eerie wildlife sounds that can be used to create the desired ambiance. A 1909 recording of Macbeth's famous dagger speech has also been made available.

Forests, woodlands and A Midsummer Night's Dream

The forests and woodlands of Shakespeare range from the sinister to the fantastical. A Midsummer Night's Dream is set within a magical woodland full of fairy enchantment while Macbeth sees Birnham Wood come alive as Malcolm's soldiers disguise themselves with felled branches as they approach Macbeth's castle.

A midsummer nights Dream
Scenes from Shakespeare for the Young. Illustrated by H. Sidney … Preface by E. L. Blanchard. 1885. 1871.e.4

Sounds selected for this topic range from cawing crows in a blustery winter woodland to a cacophony of beautiful birdsong on a summer day.

The Tempest

The Tempest was one of the last of Shakespeare's plays. Written between 1611-12, the play begins on board a ship caught in the midst of a terrible storm.  Battered by the elements, the ship is destroyed and those on board washed ashore a mystical island inhabited by the magician Prospero, his daughter Miranda, the salve Caliban and the spirit Ariel. 

The play was in part inspired by an actual shipwreck that happened off the coast of Bermuda in 1609. At the time the Burmuda islands were the most feared places on Earth for seafarers. Stories abounded about the islands being inhabited by devils and these supernatural rumours provided ample inspiration for Shakespeare.

Tempest island
 Map of Bermuda as published in Gerhard Mercator and Jodocus Hondius’ world atlas of 1633. Maps K.Top 123

Sounds chosen for The Tempest focus on two aspects of the story - the sea with its turbulent nature and the magical interior of the island. Rainforest atmospheres were selected for those students wishing to set their games inland while bad weather and stormy seas were picked out for those wanting to create an ocean setting.

Full details for students wishing to take part in the competition can find information on how to get started on the dedicated Shakespeare Off the Map pages on the GameCity website. It will be fascinating to see how the student teams incorporate these sounds into their games and we look forward to sharing the results with you later in the year.

The British Library's upcoming exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts opens 15th April 2016

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