Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Additional Dialogue By.1 Versions of Shakespeare in the World's Multiplexes

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Additional Dialogue By.1 Versions of Shakespeare in the World's Multiplexes

Article excerpt

Abstract: William Shakespeare has been part of the cinema since 1899. In the twentieth century almost a thousand films in some way based upon his plays were made, but the vast majority of those which sought to faithfully present his plays to the cinema audience failed at the box office. Since the start of the twenty-first century only one English language film using Shakespeare's text has made a profit, yet at the same time Shakespeare has become a popular source for adaptations into other genres. This essay examines the reception of a number of adaptations as gangster films, teen comedies, musicals and thrillers, as well as trans-cultural assimilations. But this very proliferation throws up other questions, as to what can legitimately be called an adaptation of Shakespeare. Not every story of divided love is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Different adaptations and assimilations have enjoyed differing degrees of success, and the essay interrogates those aspects which make the popular cinema audience flock to see Shakespeare in such disguised form, when films which are more faithfully based upon the original plays are so much less appealing to the audience in the Multiplexes.

Keywords: Shakespeare in film, cinema adaptation, genre adaptation, Shakespeare in multiplexes

In the course of the last one hundred and fourteen years, many of Shakespeare's plays have been made into films. These films have been made all over the world, in commercial cinema or as independent or art films. The contexts in which they have been made are many and various, and the purposes for which they are made are equally different. One of the ways in which these differences manifest themselves is the distance from the original play, the degree of translation, the extent of the adaptation in transferring the play to film, in each case requiring the script writers and directors to make difficult choices.

Films based upon Shakespeare's plays have been classified by Jorgens as of three types, at different removes from the original: presentations, interpretations and adaptations (12-14). Sometimes the definitions can blur, but if all of these are taken together, the number of over 1,000 such films as are claimed as derivatives of Shakespeare's plays, with the number expanding every year. While filmmakers have often sought to use the plays as the basis for their movies, Shakespeare wrote for the theatre, so there is a tenable viewpoint that every film based upon one of his plays is an adaptation, no matter how faithfully it seeks to replicate the original. Even so, Jorgens' definitions have been useful to commentators for some time now and are in wide enough circulation to form a convenient reference point. Where the first attempts to put Shakespeare on screen would primarily fall within the category of presentations, the largest category consists of those films which Jorgens would call adaptations, and these have been more successful in the terms that the film industry respects, above all else, the popularity of the film as demonstrated by the box office returns.

In the cinemas of non-Anglophone countries the most basic reason for adaptation is that the plays, when translated from their original language, are placed within a culturally appropriate milieu which is also translated. In the Anglophone world, particularly in America, although the medium is English, the language of Shakespeare is foreign in a different way in that it comes from a past from which contemporary cinema audiences feel considerable distance. In the Anglophone world, therefore, most adaptation relates to a re-contextualisation of the play which seeks to place the story into a setting which is perceived to be less remote from viewers' own lives.

There are many reasons for adapting Shakespeare's plays for the cinema. Some are pragmatic choices, some are artistic, but some are taken for economic reasons. While those things, to which audiences usually respond, are usually the creative decisions, what they have the opportunity to see in the first place is determined by economics. …

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