Lynda E. Boose and Richard Burt
In the wake of the recent shift from literary studies to cultural studies, few critics now believe that representations can be vehicles for universal truths divorced from the time and culture that created them. Rather than divide an original Shakespeare off from subsequent adaptations, critics are now more likely to deconstruct that opposition, to see the first production simply as part of a continuum that encompasses all subsequent versions, including even heretical ones that unapologetically rewrite the Bard. Moreover, since recent textual work has compelled Shakespearean scholarship to divest itself of the belief that “the text” has any knowable original or is itself a stable entity, to judge a film based on a Shakespeare play according to how closely or how well it adheres to the (presumed) Shakespeare text is to invoke a criterion implicitly dependent on a referent no longer there.
Shakespeare, the Movie includes a generic potlatch of what is presently available in filmic (usually video) format to the Shakespeare student or scholar. On the less contestable end of the spectrum of meaning encompassed by our implicit definition of “Shakespeare on film, ” 1 the collection includes BBC television productions, filmed theater productions, and full screen adaptations like Kenneth Branagh's. It also includes films like Zeffirelli's that, eschewing Branagh's more lineal kind of textual adaptation, deliberately whittle down and then cut and paste the sixteenth-century narrative in order to tell and sell a story more amenable to contemporary viewers. In terms of films that reconstruct a Shakespeare narrative in some new realm of the imaginary, the collection has welcomed innovations such as the animated Shakespeares that reformulate radically truncated texts into images no longer tied to their origin in an actor's body and its representation of the real. Yet, in the largest sense, a discourse about “Shakespeare on film” encompasses an even broader reference that extends even to films with a wholly different representational economy and market strategy-films like Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Action Hero, in which Shakespeare is neither the underlying text nor even the source of the plot, but only the reference to a film within the film.
In addressing the interplay between the discourses of Shakespeare criticism, film studies, performance criticism, and cultural studies, the essays in this