Taking Shakespeare’s London to Las Vegas

Published 18 March 2010

adriankAdrian Kiernander, Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of New England, is travelling to Las Vegas, where, in a public lecture, he will take residents of that glittering city on a virtual tour through the muddy streets of Shakespeare’s London.

Professor Kiernander’s Las Vegas lecture – part of the highly-regarded “University Forum” series of public lectures – is one of the scheduled events during his current visit to North America as an international authority on Shakespeare’s play Richard III. He is conducting research for an online edition of the play to be included in the Internet Shakespeare Editions (ISE).

In the lecture, titled “Richard the Third’s online London”, Professor Kiernander (pictured here) will track the events of the play on an online map of London dating from the mid-sixteenth century (midway between the events depicted in the play and its composition).

Richard III is probably the first tragedy in the English language that uses so much local knowledge,” he said. “London is referred to more often in Richard III than in any other play by Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s audience would have had immediate associations with all the places mentioned.”

He compared the effect of the play on Shakespeare’s audience with that, today, of some films – particularly horror films – that depict frightening events against a background of recognisable landmarks. “The scary events are made all the scarier by seeing them happening in places you know well,” he said.

Professor Kiernander is visiting the University of Victoria in Canada, where the ISE has its base. From there he will go – at Easter – to Chicago, where he will deliver a paper about the online editing of Richard III at the 38th Annual Meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America. “I’ll be discussing possible solutions to problems posed by some unusual differences in the two earliest versions of the text,” he said.

From Chicago he will go to the University of Nevada, Reno, to work with the technical editor of the ISE, then on to Las Vegas to present the “University Forum” lecture, and then back to Victoria in British Columbia.

Speaking of the online version of Richard III to be included in the ISE, he said that it would feature an interactive map enabling people to follow the action of the play through its late-medieval London setting. “It’s very much part of the meaning of the play,” he said. “This local knowledge produced a vividness that – over the centuries – has partly been lost. Reviving it will help actors and readers visualise what it really means to ‘go to Whitefriars’ or ‘to the Guild Hall’.”

Professor Kiernander was an associate director – with John Bell – of a production of Richard III that toured Australia in 1992, and last year co-directed – with Ruth Thompson – an experimental production of the play (in which Richard did not appear on stage) at UNE.