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The ‘after-life’ of any Shakespeare play is lived through a variety of media – stage performance, critical analysis, translation and adapatation – but it is at least arguable that such life and popular accessibility as ‘Shakespeare’ continues to enjoy owes much to his preservation in the educational system. Bowdlerized, moralized, weighed down with notes or expanded into ‘tales’, still the Shakespeare they met in school has been for many people the only one they know, and deserves at least a footnote in the story. A special place should also be reserved for those editors and adapters by whom ‘the attention of young females, both in schools and families’ was ‘carefully directed to the study of our English Classics’ at a time when the classical languages still ruled boys’ education, since without their efforts, and those of the women’s reading groups and literary societies, Shakespeare might have ceased to have any ‘after-life’ outside a small coterie of intellectuals. Particular interest therefore attaches to their appropriation of King Lear, a play which presented a unique problem to young women in the nineteenth century.
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