Bachelor of Arts
Nicholas R. Jones
Shakespeare, Film, Productions, Adaptations
"Doing Shakespeare is simply harder than anything else," Colm Feore says to his interviewer, while apparently on break from rehearsing his role as Marcus Andronicus before principal photography begins for Julie Taymor's film, Titus (1999). "It's harder than Chekov, it's harder than Moliere, it's harder than Racine, it's harder than .. . anything!" ("The Making of Titus," DVD Special Features). The team involved in Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000) as well as that of Richard Loncraine's Richard III (1995) didn't have it any easier. By all accounts of each filmmaking process, none of the films to be discussed here had the luxury of simply being one film among many; each had to face the weight of centuries of Shakespearean production and the cultural monolith that stands behind the playwright's name. Worthen argues that a Shakespearean production "affords a powerful way to bring questions of authority and performance into view", such as whether a production is "engaged in transmitting the work, or producing it". Though Worthen deals mainly with stage productions, perhaps the difficulty faced by these filmmakers comes from the fact that changing Shakespeare's medium brings assumptions of authority into focus. Feore's anxiety toward his position in a Shakespearean production shows us "the sense that performance transmits Shakespearean authority remains very much in play."
Taking a script written for the stage and using it to create a film causes many opportunities for anxiety, especially if the playwright is one of the most famous writers in the English language. There have been some recent films that adapted the story to a modern setting for the screen (Touchstone Picture's Ten Things I Hate About You, 1999), but productions that use the original language in the script must combine the theatrical storytelling methods in the text with cinematic ones. There have also been productions that use the visual component of film to elaborate and expand on what is in the text, creating a cinematic universe that might result in a "realistic" Shakespeare film (Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, 1989; Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet, 1990). These films resolve the contradictions between cinematic storytelling and theatrical convention by basically ignoring them. There are, however, films that invite these contradictions to the surface through their use of physical and historical setting. The focus in this case will be how the tension between "the theatrical" and "the cinematic" exposes Shakespearean textual authority: it is confronted, dealt with ironically, or incorporated on film through the distinct relationship theater and cinema have with the movement of time.
Lunning, Lydia, "Dramatic Relocation: The Time and Place for Shakespeare on Film" (2003). Honors Papers. 494.