As a work that survives and appears in more than one form, King Lear has a vexing problem of interpretation and a rich opportunity for the study of textual and cultural variants. The play begins with an aging monarch staging a fantastical, paradoxical final act as a king. It lures us toward a final act of interpretation to nail down the nature of the sufferings and yet fails to provide any sense of closure.
Are Lear’s “evil daughters” implicated as a source of the tragedy of King Lear that has been said to be coded masculine? Does Cordelia’s hanging enhance the tragic pathos surrounding her journey, or does it help to highlight the senseless male suffering? How does Lear speak to cultures far removed politically and historically from early modern England, and make certain themes of contemporary cultural life more legible, such as generational gap, filial piety, and loyalty and duty?
The play’s history of reception and criticism is informed by a perceived ethical burden – as a human responsibility to each other and to cultural otherness—to explain Lear’s problems away or legitimize the characters’ suffering and the tragic pathos of the play. Nowhere is the struggle to lay ethical claims upon the characters or the tragedy more evident than in rewritings of Lear in the contexts of Asian diaspora in the West and of East Asian performance cultures.
This chapter explores these questions in Wu Hsing-kuo’s Buddhist interpretation in Lear is Here (Beijing opera, Mandarin, 2001) on the small screen in the interactive MIT Global Shakespeares learning module (http://globalshakespeares.mit.edu/modules/). As the co-founder of Global Shakespeares and co-author of the learning module who is conscious of necessity of critical self-distancing, my purpose here is to show how the digital medium—specifically a video-centric platform–can help shed light on these questions in the study and teaching of King Lear, rather than to analyze the digital project itself. Digital tools help us make necessary links between the analogue and digital worlds, and between different iterations of the human experience. While there is much discussion of a mediated Shakespeare in the mediascape (such as YouTube) and while there is an increasing number of apps with some video content, video-centric teaching platforms have remained marginal to pedagogical and critical inquiries.