Witchcraft by a picture, areas of resistance in Shakespearean film.
Traditionally a Shakespeare film is seen as an act of
translation from one idealised source of meaning (the text)
to another (the language of cinema). This approach
dismisses or misinterprets the majority of films made
because they are either silent or foreign. Silent films, it
is claimed cannot recreate the text. Many foreign films
distort the plays' 'meaning' to cater for their audiences.
This thesis challenges these assumptions by analysing
two representative examples from these 'areas of
resistance', Rather than compare these to an ideal concept
of the plays it seeks to contextualise the films in their
social and historical positions. The subjects chosen are the
silent films made prior to 1912, and Kurosawa's Kumonosu jo
By studying the history of nineteenth Shakespeare
presentation in art, literature and the theatre this thesis
demonstrates that the pre-1912 films were part of a
long-established tradition of silent and spectacular
performances. Between 1907 and 1912 British companies used
this tradition to try and create a high-class style of film
to challenge the influx of mass-produced narrative-base
melodramas from North America.
The second section describes how Shakespeare was
used by a nascent class of urban intellectuals in 19th and
20th century Japan to define the problems of the
individual's relationship to the state. Kumonosu jo , a film
by a self-confessed liberal humanist, perpetuates this
tradition by formulating a nihilist study of militarism
using the structures of the Noh theatre.
Finally the thesis points out that each of these
areas of film is emblematic of the position of Shakespeare
in a specific culture at a specific time. Only an analysis
which seeks to understand a film as a historically
conditioned act of meaning can avoid the mis-readings and
sweeping appropriations that non-orthodox Shakespeare films
have been subject to in the past.