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  • Creating a Context: The Case of King Lear
  • Christie Carson (bio)

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Figure 1.

In the Finder Text each scene begins with a cumulative list of images which illustrate that scene in performance. The images which appear here are copyright of the Shakespeare Centre Library and the New York Public Library, reproduced with permission of Cambridge University Press.

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Figure 2.

The modern spelling Quarto, as edited by Jay Halio, is provided in full on the disk and accompanied by images of the Trinity College Cambridge Quarto edition. Reproduced with permission of Cambridge University Press.

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Figure 3.

The image database is also accessible through the Table of Contents where the images are listed both chronologically, as seen here, and by Act and Scene. Reproduced with permission of Cambridge University Press.

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Figure 4.

The full Tate text, and four other edited and acting editions of the play, are available in full. These have been licenced from Chadwyck-Healey Ltd. and reproduced with permission of Cambridge University Press.

Computer technology has already had a profound effect on the way we communicate and exchange ideas in academia. These changes reflect the all-encompassing shifts in communication practices in society generally and, for those of us who study the theatre, these new technologies can offer great new freedoms and new opportunities. Yet digital technology is in its infancy. The technical developments which will have the greatest impact on theatre studies, such as DVD and digital broadcasting, are particularly young. My own first foray into this world of computer technology—developing for Cambridge University Press a CD-ROM text and performance archive of William Shakespeare’s King Lear 1 —has convinced me of the need to choose positive examples to follow in this realm and, too, excited me about the possibilities offered by new techologies. In this paper I will look at these opportunities situated both in the academic world and in the professional theatre through the context of my particular experience in working on a CD-ROM project.

Although the advent of computer technology and its effect on the theatre and theatre research are unprecedented, there are models in the adjustments made at the birth of film, radio and television which make this historic shift more understandable and its outcomes more containable. Computer technology no more means the death of the theatre than did film, radio or television. Rather, like these previous developments, digital technology offers greater access to the theatre and to theatrical practices for a wider and more diverse audience. Convergence has been a buzzword throughout the 1990s; however, I suggest that it might well be an appropriate description of the future of theatre research and theatre practice. Computer technology may well offer a brave new world for theatre studies but I think it is a world that should be structured carefully, in such a way as to allow for the greatest possible advancement by the greatest number. With the King Lear Archive I present one example of how this might be achieved.

I have spent the last three years working on this CD-ROM project, which documents the textual and performance history of the play King Lear. The fundamental premise [End Page 433] underlying the project has been to draw attention to the fluidity of the text over time. The textual and performance histories of this play are, of course, particularly varied and interesting. As we know, less than a century after its first performance, Shakespeare’s work was replaced on stage in 1681 by Tate’s fanciful adaptation in which the King and his daughter triumph. Moreover, when the Shakespearean text was first restored over 150 years later the text still showed evidence of Tate’s influence. The gradual re-establishment of the Shakespearean text brought about another 150-year period during which a heavily edited text took precedence; the standard edition conflated the original Quarto and Folio texts of the play. Only in the last twenty years has attention been paid to the substantive differences between the Quarto and Folio texts and only...

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