‘From CD to the Internet: Moving towards, accessibility, flexibility and fluidity’
Christie Carson, Royal Holloway University of London
The Cambridge King Lear CD-ROM: Text and Performance Archive was published in
Britain on November 16, 2000 and in North America on Jan. 6, 2001. It has been five
years in the making and its publication, I hope, will contribute to the shift towards
new forms of scholarship in Shakespeare studies in English and Drama Departments
which digital technology is facilitating.
The aim of the King Lear CD has been to draw together the interests of textual
scholars working in English Departments with the interests of performance history
scholars working in Drama Departments. Looking at the history of published texts and
professional productions it is possible to emphasize the central premise of the CD,
that all texts, but particularly dramatic texts, are fluid over time. Dramatic texts have
been fixed at particular moments in history through the printed text, but also through
television and film adaptation. However, there has always been and continues to be an
important relationship between a dramatic text and its audience.
This archive gives general access to textual and performance materials which have
formerly been available to private scholars working in restricted reading rooms which
are geographically spread across North America, Australia and the United Kingdom.
What I have tried to do by bringing these materials together is to enable students and
researchers in smaller institutions to have the opportunity to do the kind of research
which previously has only been available to the well-placed urban scholar. By, on the
one hand, drawing together the primary materials of concern for two related, but so
far largely unconnected, disciplines and, on the other hand, opening those materials to
a wider range of people through digital technology, I hope to have created the
opportunity for new kinds of teaching and research to develop.
This CD is a research and teaching tool which is designed to foster new work in the
field, work that I may not have anticipated but yet have facilitated by creating a
navigational structure which is open-ended rather than closed, which encourages
exploration rather than conclusion. What I also hope to have done by placing the
scholarship of the past together in an even-handed fashion, is to undermine the
progressive assumptions of much of 20th century scholarship. The CD allows the
individual user to look at the work of a range of scholars over time and to decide
whether to accept or reject that work based on his or her own assessment of the
primary materials on offer. The scholarly process is laid bare, presenting the user with
the means to contest the conclusions provided. In essence what this CD archive aims
to do is to support an intellectual environment driven by an inquiry-based model for
teaching and research.
As a result of the work that was involved in the King Lear CD-ROM I have launched
a new digital research project which has received funding from the Arts and
Humanities Research Board in Britain. Official titled ‘Designing Shakespeare: An
Audio-visual Archive 1960-2000’, the aim of this new project is to collect
performance-based materials which are focused on the temporal and spatial aspects of
theatre. There will be no texts for the plays in this case but rather a large database,
which will include, production credits for all productions of Shakespeare in London
and Stratford from 1960-2000, pictures of these productions in performance,
interviews with directors and designers and 3D models of sets and the theatre spaces
used. The database will be housed on the servers of the Performing Arts Data Service
at the University of Glasgow and will be accessible on the web anywhere in the
world. The form of this new project, which began in September 2000, is as unique as
In a sense this project has been set up in contrast to the Lear CD. Having learned from
the process of creating the Lear database I wanted to do something different in this
case. While the Lear CD can be seen as a resource that illustrates historical
approaches to one play over a wide geographic area this new project is much more
focused both historically and geographically in order to allow for analysis across the
canon. All 37 plays will be represented insofar as they have been performed in the last
40 years. What the Lear CD does in terms of covering one play in depth I wanted to
contrast with a project that aims for breadth on a narrower subject. Giving students
and scholars access to performance-related information is again the central premise of
the project but the nature of that material has shifted in this new venture, and the
scope of database has narrowed.
The Designing Shakespeare project is in its infancy but what I will try to give you in
this short paper is a sense of the finished project and its possibilities. One of the
greatest hurdles that researchers in the performing arts have faced is the difficulty of
clearly performing arts materials for distribution online due to copyright restrictions.
One of the aims of this project is to set up a contained test-base in which the
copyright issues are very clear. The majority of the photographs that will be used in
this database will come from the collection of the theatre photographer Donald
Cooper. Because this photographer holds the copyright to all of his material, it has
been possible to come to an arrangement which covers all of the images from his
collection rather than having to negotiate images one at a time (as I was forced in
many cases to do with the King Lear CD). The other aspect of the database, which has
clear copyright implications, is the interviews with directors and designers. While
ideally in the performing arts we would like to document performance, agreements
with the actors unions have been very slow to develop. The unions argue that internet
use is equivalent to broadcast and this has cost implications which put performance
recordings out of the realm of possibility for an educational undertaking. By using
oral accounts of the creative process we are able to work directly with the directors
and designers who can give us the right to record their memories.
The one area which may cause more difficulty, and where there is no real precedent,
is in the 3D models we hope to create. At present the main aim is to create the theatre
spaces involved, to allow the user to understand the nature of the design constraints
which each space provides. If we can then add to that key set designs which illustrate
the use of the space in a particular production, this would add to the usefulness of the
data dramatically. Similarly if we could be given permission to reproduce drawings or
groundplans we would begin to build up a truly unique theatrical resource. The
negotiation on that front has still to be undertaken. What is promising about this
project, however, is that we have a basic framework that we know we can provide.
Once we have the first stage in place it will be possible to put that phase online for
users to test. By allowing users to see the development of the archive I hope to get
some interim feedback which might help the future shape of the project. Also making
available what we have already in place will hopefully both encourage and reassure
potential contributors, showing them how their work might be displayed and
The database system we are using depends on a hierarchical structure and the
hierarchy we are working with in this project, in the first instance, is a play-based
structure. A folder for each play has been created which has attached to it only the
most basic information, in other words, the name of the author. Within each large play
folder there are a series of smaller folders that represent the individual productions.
Each production folder holds all of the credits for that production and within each of
these smaller folders are all of the items related to that particular production. The
result being that for each item it is not necessary to re-enter all of the production
details as they are contained in the folder information.
This hierarchy system leaves a great deal of room for flexibility. The folders are not
limited in size and therefore items can be added to them at any point in the future.
Also because the production folders are self-contained new kinds of hierarchies can
be developed. Once the database is nearer completion I would like to create another
hierarchy which will group the plays by decade and then by year. As a result with the
same information we can have two very different means of display and access. This
flexibility means that particular collections of all different kinds can be created at any
point in the future. A collection that illustrates the work of one director or one
designer might be useful to support a particular research project. A collection which
looks at the work performed in a particular theatre space might also form another kind
of hierarchy. What this new project allows for which the CD, because of its fixed
nature, could only really emulate is true flexibility.
Making the database available at an early stage of development allows for the
possibility of creating a range of different user interfaces. If we find that the first
interface we create does not serve the needs of our users it is possible to change it.
The finite nature of the CD is replaced by the fluid nature of the web. Given that
pointing out the fluidity of the approach to a text over time is one of the main aims of
our project, this means of presenting the archive seems most appropriate.
In terms of the uses of this archive I hope that its free availability on the web will
again differentiate it from the CD which will be primarily available in research
libraries. It is my hope that this archive, particularly because of its visual bias, will be
accessible, but also useful, to high school students and even public school students all
over the world, as well as to university level students and scholars. The visual bias of
the material also potentially allows for use of this database in countries whose first
language is not English. The majority of the text associated with this archive will be
the lists of names in the production information, a format that lends itself well to use
by traditions outside the English speaking one. The Lear CD requires an
understanding of English, I hope that this new archive will not have that requirement.
In conclusion, I suggest that these two projects, the Lear CD and the Designing
Shakespeare Archive, show two ends of a spectrum. The detail and scope of the Lear
CD are contrasted by the broad but more shallow approach of the Design Archive.
The static but contained nature of the CD are contrasted by the fluidity and flexibility
of the ever changeable web interface. The emphasis on text and still images in the CD
will be contrasted by an emphasis on video, sound and 3D models in the Design
Archive. And finally the emphasis on a scholarly audience for the CD will be replaced
by an emphasis on a more flexible understanding of who the audience might be and
where their interests might lie, both now and in the future. While the subject has
remained the same, Shakespearean production, I have been able to experiment with
the form and the delivery of the materials I have collected through these two projects.
Responses to the CD have only just begun. Responses to the Design Archive are still
some time off. What I hope to gain from this seminar is an understanding of the
current, but also the potential future, uses of resources of this kind. Digital technology
is still in its infancy. At the centre of this seminar is the desire to look at the
intellectual implications of the uses of new technologies in this field. So far I have
highlighted two very different projects with two very different approaches. I hope that
this seminar as a whole will show that there are a wide range of new approaches,
approaches that will ultimately change the face of Shakespeare studies and will frame
the understanding of Shakespeare for future generations.
This examination, like the resources and approaches it highlights, cannot be a static
process. My next project, after the Designing Shakespeare project, will not be a
replica of either of the original two but rather will be a refinement and a new
departure that takes advantage of whatever new technology has emerged in the
meantime. This is not a time to stand still. The technology is moving so quickly that I
believe you have to be ready and willing to throw out what you did the last time in
favour of what will work now. When you think about it, it is a little bit like making