You Can Now See Shakespeare's England In Virtual Reality


The words "O brave new world / that has such people in't" from William Shakespeare's The Tempest have never rung more true: researchers at Florida International University have built a virtual reality immersive facility called the I-CAVE (which stands for Integrated Computer Augmented Virtual Environment) where users can experience what it was like to watch a Shakesperean play straight off the ink and onto the stage.

Covered from foot-to-ceiling in 5 hi-res screens, each 9 feet by 5 feet and "arranged in a hexagonal pattern," the I-CAVE recreates Shakespearean London both on the streets of the city during the reign of Elizabeth I and inside the historical Globe Theater, where Shakespeare most frequently put on his dramas, comedies, and histories. Users can be treated to the opening monologue of Henry V, one of the first plays ever to be shown there, and can navigate around the 16th century VR world with a handheld remote controller and a headset.

"The goal of the project is to recreate the experience of what it must have been like to see a play in Shakespeare's era," said FIU project manager David Frisch, who is a graduate student at the university's Department of English Literature, in an official statement.

To world-build, students from the architecture department created 3D models of Bankside, the London district where the theater is located, in the style of what it would have looked like in 1598, using etchings, drawings, and other rendered images from the day as touchstones. While the team took "creative liberties" with the look of the VR world, the look is more or less accurate.

After that, the models were input into a 3D animation program, which translated the images for the I-CAVE. To make the experience even more realistic, actors were recorded to simulate the hustle and bustle of the day.

"It's the perfect balance to see the First Folio and the gallery and then have them [the students] in this immersive environment," added James Sutton, the FIU chairperson of the English Department.

The Shakespearean VR simulation is available to experience at the I-CAVE until Feb. 29 at the school's West Miami-Dade campus. It's part of the school's month-long celebration of the touring exhibit "First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare," from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. That exhibit is on display at the college's art museum during the month of February.

Source: Florida International University

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