¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Studies of Shakespeare and new media often tell the story of his exportation to a new, virtual world. Like his role in film and television, Shakespeare’s growing presence in newer media forms, from Youtube and Second Life™ to Arden: the World of William Shakespeare, is increasingly being explored as a twenty-first century extension of the phenomenon of “Shakespeare’s appropriation and adaption in mass media”. Scholars have investigated and promoted the potential of these latest virtual locales (including a growing array of electronic academic resources) for innovative, interactive teaching and comparative research, and suggested some of the new meanings and interpretations that can arise when Shakespeare is produced and consumed in digital form.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 4 This essay traces a movement in the opposite direction. It focuses not on the appropriation of “Shakespeare” by new media, but, conversely, on the incorporation of new media into traditional Shakespeare institutions. It observes how a set of key Shakespeare organisations in the United Kingdom – including theater, heritage and library institutions – have recruited new digital technologies to promote their live work. Their websites, and, increasingly, social networking spaces, promise to fulfil on a global scale their mission of bringing, and promoting, Shakespeare to a wider audience. They also serve as “paratexts” in which organisations can articulate the value of what they do. As this essay will show, however, this online self-presentation can have unexpected implications for the cultural value of these organisations, and, by extension, of Shakespeare.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 What are these value implications? This essay does not set out to argue that traditional Shakespeare institutions are devalued by engaging with a medium that, for some, might appear to occupy a lower rung of a cultural hierarchy than stage or book, as suggested in the perceived costs and benefits, or “tradeoffs”, of Shakespeare’s movement between different “media scripts.” Nor does it necessarily propose that their online self-presentation threatens to supplant the live experience of the institution. The theory of “remediation” suggests that newer media forms annex and appropriate the desirable qualities of older ones while seeming to improve on them – in the way that television enlisted the “liveness” and immediacy of the theater, claimed greater accessibility and convenience for consumers, and came to overshadow it (and now battles with the Internet for supremacy). But, as we shall see, the online presence of these traditional organisations tends at present to market and support, rather than supplant, their building-based live offer. This essay argues, instead, that the value implications of the use of new digital media for traditional Shakespeare institutions are in the associated language, or narrative, of value, that organisations adopt when they present themselves online. Ironically, it is not the negative but the positive discourse of the Internet – interactivity, participation, user-generated creativity – that can change the way a cultural organisation articulates the significance of what it does, and drastically alter its traditional relationship to its own cultural value.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 3 The positive discourse of “interactivity” and “participation” associated with new media has already been suggested in a more general way to have changed the public’s expectations of stage performance. This case study focuses closely on the cultural organisations that deliberately adopt this discourse in their online self-presentation, and reveals that the extent to which these terms are shaped by the narratives of value that come from a hybrid combination of institutional agendas, new technologies and larger cultural and economic imperatives. The Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust and the British Library are part of a mixed UK cultural economy of public funding and private business, and they work, to varying degrees, under the dual imperatives of public service (which aligns them with the state provision of health, security and welfare) and the market. In recent years, both business and policy have seen a new orientation towards the user, be it through more customer-oriented marketing or a greater say for the public in how public services are run. This shift has led to a rearticulation of “value”. Business literature now proposes that customers “co-create value” with companies; while the UK government’s cultural policy, traditionally concerned with providing “access” to intrinsically valuable objects and events, has (partly influenced by business) increasingly promoted the value of more active forms of “participation”, and, most recently, of the “creativity” that cultural organisations generate in visitors and audiences. The value of culture is not only increasingly about you, but about what you do with it, and the Web 2.0 rhetoric of interactive, user-generated creativity has both fuelled and sustained this narrative shift.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 5 A major effect for cultural organisations of adopting the digitally-informed discourse of interactivity and user-generated creativity is to change the location of value within the organisation. If value is no longer articulated as an enduring property of a cultural object at the center of an institution, but is instead seen to be created in the magic moment of encounter between a member of the public and culture – or even after the event, in what people do with their experience of culture – then the role of traditional institutions can potentially be radically changed. Often founded as gatekeepers of intrinsically valuable cultural goods, these organisations are increasingly encouraged to present themselves as facilitators of engaging, value-generating experiences; resources for people’s future creativity. While this can be a positive step, it leaves them with the challenge of how to reclaim the cultural value that they supposedly engender in others, and that potentially occurs outside their walls.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This essay reveals the double maneuvers by which these organisations simultaneously celebrate their potential to create new value, and strive to recapture that value within their institutional walls. They use digital media to efface their traditional role as gatekeepers, but at the same time to reassert their importance as mediators in people’s engagement with culture. The essay will see them recouping (or attempting to recoup) the value that is apparently generated anew during, or after, a cultural encounter; and even restructuring their organisations around the new, user-oriented language of “collaboration” and “experience”; but ultimately, recoursing to the intrinsic value of the objects, artefacts and even buildings that they possess. So pervasive is the new discourse of interactivity, though, that even this older language of intrinsic value is permanently inflected by its priorities. “Shakespeare”, these new media forms confirm, is not a fixed cultural object to be disseminated, and his value, shaped, reshaped and created anew by the imperatives of business, public service, education, heritage and entertainment, eludes the firm grasp of any one Shakespeare institution.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 1 The essay concludes with recommendations for the role, not only for scholars of Shakespeare and new media (whose formal and technical readings can often tend only implicitly to deal with the question of “value”), but for scholars of Shakespeare more widely, in examining what is at stake in the language in which we are asked to articulate the value of studying, teaching and researching Shakespeare – to our funders, to other institutions, to the public, and to ourselves. While cultural value, no longer determined and controlled by institutions, is fragmentary and endlessly shifting, this essay proposes that literary scholars might be unusually well placed to decode – and even help to determine – the narratives of value that come with every new medium for Shakespeare.