A King of Infinite (cyber)space? The Digital Remapping of Shakespeare in light of The Globe’s Emma Rice Controversy


Marjorie Garber has succinctly claimed that: “Every age creates its own Shakespeare” (2004, p.3). Garber counters the popular contention that Shakespeare’s plays are “timeless” and moves toward an understanding of the works’ enduring timeliness, in that they can be adapted in ways that already seem modern. More recently, Courtney Lehmann and Geoffrey Way have mapped how theatrical institutions have sought – and struggled – to negotiate the new digital environment. Their proposition is especially prescient in light of the recent controversy at the London Globe, when Emma Rice was formally asked to step down as artistic director because her practice of Shakespeare was deemed incongruous with Sam Wanamaker’s founding vision in 1949. The Globe concluded that Rice’s use of contemporary sound and lighting technology was not conducive to the unique theatre space they had created, and by implication positioned themselves as custodians of the essential Shakespeare. This paper situates the Rice controversy in the context of the Globe’s negotiation of digital environments, and in particular the institution’s construction of its online profile.  Through a brief analysis of the Globe’s online footprint, and reactions in the Shakespeare online community to Rice’s departure, this paper identifies an apparent contradiction between, on the one hand, the Globe’s online commitment to broadening access, generating and sustaining audiences for Shakespeare and, on the other, the Globe’s reactive treatment of Rice. Contemporary adaptations and popularised Shakespeares are ghosted by a more traditional interpretation of the Bard. This paper argues that this controversy is indicative of both a creeping conservatism within the Shakespeare multiverse and also an implicit gender bias within some productions. Furthermore, it considers to what extent the Globe’s reaction to Rice signaled, despite Garber’s argument, an untimely Shakespeare, one that risks being out of touch with its age.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v45p113

Keywords: Shakespeare; adaptation; Twitter; performance; the Globe


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