Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture

Synopsis

From the earliest days of radio to the golden age of television and beyond, Orson Welles has occupied a unique place in American culture. In Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture, Michael Anderegg considers Welles's influence as an interpreter of Shakespeare for twentieth-century American popular audiences. Exploring his works on stage, radio, and in film, Anderegg reveals Welles's unique position as an artist of both high and popular culture. At once intellectually respected and commercially viable, the Shakespeare Welles gave the American public reflects his unique genius as a writer, director, and actor.

From early plays in school to the Everybody's Shakespeare books and the Mercury Text Records adaptations, Anderegg illustrates how Welles tried to transcend the barriers between the classical and the popular. He argues that "Welles the Shakespearean" sought to be a restorer as well as an innovator by drawing on his knowledge of the abundant, lowbrow popularity of Shakespeare in nineteenth-century America. Welles's three film adaptations of Shakespeare, Macbeth, Othello, and Chimes at Midnight, are examined. From his peculiarly "Scottish" version of Macbeth, to his postmodern reading of the history plays in Chimes at Midnight, Welles's interpretive strategies--and the public's reception of them--are considered. In the final chapter, Anderegg surveys Welles's work as an actor--his legacy and myth--and reexamines the common view that he squandered his talents in the era after Citizen Kane. Taking into account his non-Shakespearean roles, Anderegg shows Welles to have been a markedly "Shakespearean" actor and, in his versions of the Bard's plays, a key arbiter of culture.