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Fashioning Shakespeare for Popular Cinema

Class at Faculty of Arts |



"In establishing the extent to which we can be satisfied by [dramatic] representations from so many different periods”, writes Bertolt Brecht, “are we not at the same time creating the suspicion that we have failed to discover the special pleasures, the proper entertainment of our own time." Building on this ‘suspicion' hinted at by Brecht this course will examine the ‘universality’ of Shakespeare mainly through an analysis of the trailers of popular adaptations of his plays. The extent to which the films, specifically via their trailers, advertise themselves as loyal, disloyal, novel or hybrid with respect to Shakespeare’s texts will be explored. As will the extent to which the trailers themselves fetishize Shakespeare as a commodity for the film industry. These analyses will finally pave the way for examining how these trailers, just like their subject films (and in some cases more than them), expand the boundaries of the socio-cultural phenomenon we know as ‘Shakespeare’ by constantly fashioning it in diverse and ever- changing ways.


Eight of the sessions in the course will examine what are arguably the most-adapted tragedies of Shakespeare

(Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello). Each of these plays will have one session where clips from an adaptation are screened and another session where the trailers of alternative adaptations are screened. This will be followed by a comparative discussion of the loyal/disloyal/novel/hybrid nature of these trailers with respect to

Shakespeare’s text and with respect to each other. The remaining sessions will focus on trailers and clips that reflect on the process of adaptation and the fashioning of Shakespeare.

Material: Core Texts:

• Alexa Huang and Elizabeth Rivlin (eds.) Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation (New York: Palgrave

Macmillan, 2014), pp. 1-17 ( ppropriation_Palgrave_2014_ed._Alexa_Huang_and_Elizabeth_Rivlin).

• Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation, (New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 1-32 ( f).

• Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, (Random House: UK, 1998)

( njamin.htm).

• It is expected that the students would have read the following plays:

Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth.

Film Reviews:

• Daniel Rosenthal, The Bard On Screen, The Guardian


• Roger Ebert, ‘New Punk Version of Romeo & Juliet’, Chicago Sun Times


• Bosley Crowther, West Side Story, The New York Times

( 52DFB667838A679EDE&partner=Rotten%2520Tomatoes).

• Lloyd Rose, The Film Equivalent of a Lushly Illustrated Coffee Table Book:

‘Hamlet’ Kenneth Branagh’s Inaction Flick, The Washington Post

( srv/style/longterm/movies/review97/hamletrose.htm).

• Desson Howe, Branagh’s ‘Hamlet’: Not to Be, The Washington Post ( srv/style/longterm/movies/review97/hamlethowe.htm).

• Chuck Stephens, Of Gods and Smog Monsters, LA Weekley, ( smog-monsters-2132403).

Study programmes