Recounting Our Dreams: Imagining Shakespeare in Two Recent Film and Televised Adaptations of A Midsummer Night's Dream

By Ford, John R. | Shakespeare Bulletin, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Recounting Our Dreams: Imagining Shakespeare in Two Recent Film and Televised Adaptations of A Midsummer Night's Dream


Ford, John R., Shakespeare Bulletin


An adaptation of a Shakespeare play often employs strategies that simultaneously recover and resist Shakespeare's version, presenting itself, on the one hand, as an adaptation of an original Shakespearean work and, on the other, as an original work daring to use Shakespeare's play as source. Implicit, or explicit, in these adaptations is a declaration of independence from a Shakespearean progenitor that paradoxically reaffirms a Shakespearean allegiance. What could be more Shakespearean than the audacious boast of an upstart crow? Or, in the case of Christine Edzard, little eyases that cry out on the top of question? Indeed, two recent adaptations of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Christine Edzard's The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream and Ed Fraiman and Peter Bowker's d Midsummer Night's Dream (for the Shakespeare Retold series), offer interesting variations of those two strategies, marked by bold redefinitions of space and of audience collaboration.

In fact, these two films are not so much adaptations of a Shakespeare play as they are a testing out of Shakespearean and theatrical decorum. Edzard's Dream, as Samuel Crowl, Mark Thornton Burnett and others have observed, challenges not only the opposing structures of theatrical spaces, proscenium and thrust, but the opposing forms of theatrical and cinematic conventions that somehow co-exist interdependently in her film (See, for example, Crowl 163-68 and Burnett 167-68). The Fraiman/ Bowker Dream is set in a Shakespearean theme park called Dream Park. The park not only parodies the structure and imagery of Shakespeare's play but mischievously exploits postmodern critiques of "Shakespeare" as tourist attraction, the spaces of performance--whether festival theaters or bankside Globes or whole communities such as Stratford-upon-Avon--refashioned as theme parks, vacation lands. And yet, for both films, such often rigorous processes of critique and deconstruction frame a celebration of these half-sleep, half-waking energies and delights of Shakespeare's play.

In a sense, both the Shakespeare Retold televised version of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream are very much about the awkwardness of adaptation, where opposed cinematic and theatrical conventions fight it out for control of this story. Critics such as Michael Hattaway have argued persuasively that one reason comedies have not fared well on film is that the naturalistic and interiorized conventions of film resist the overtly presentational conventions of comedy, especially in the construction of comic character and comic space. As Hattaway notes, "[c]haracters in the comedies ... tend to the typical rather than the individuated and require settings that are neither wholly exterior nor wholly interiorised" (86). But these two productions get their life from such clashing conventions, conventions that, one might think, would have no business operating in the same play, like hot ice and wondrous strange snow.

Ed Fraiman and Peter Bowker's BBC television adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream is part of the Shakespeare Retold quartet of Shakespearean adaptations. But "Shakespearean adaptation" is not quite the most useful term to describe these works. As the series title suggests, these stories are not so much dutiful realizations of Shakespeare's texts as they are twice-told tales, ripe for the taking. Each of the four videos is more an adaptation of popular TV series or films or even pop-culture narratives than of a Shakespeare play, despite the fact that the title of each work seems boldly to announce a Shakespearean project. Thus Macbeth, set in a prize-winning restaurant owned by "Executive Chef" Duncan but run by an ambitious head chef, Joe Macbeth, is an adaptation that appropriates not so much Shakespeare's play but two playful adaptations of Macbeth: Joe Macbeth and Scotland, PA. Much Ado About Nothing is set in a TV newsroom, where Beatrice must share an anchor desk with her egotistical former colleague and beau, Benedick. …

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