Shakespeare in Production: Whose History?

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Shakespeare in Production examines a number of plays in context. Included are the 1936 Romeo and Juliet, unpopular with critics of filmed Shakespeare, but very much a “photoplay” if its time; the opening sequences of filmed Hamlets which span more than seventy years; The Comedy of Errors on television, where production of this script is almost impossible; and the Branagh Much Ado About Nothing, a “popular” film discussed in the context of comedy as a genre.

In considering Henry V, this study looks at fifty years of Pistol on film and television to illustrate how changing times shape the character, and then includes the Branagh film in discussions of recent interpretations of “history” as reflected by productions of Shakespeare's history plays. An examination of late twentieth-century production of Hamlet suggests what the script has lost and gained as it has moved toward in time. A discussion of “designer's theater” in Great Britain, where all the elements of the production are dominated by “concept,” argues that the actors work within a restricting rather than a liberating artistic environment.

“Whose history?” inevitably turns out to be that of the individual observer, for regardless of the criteria deployed criticism is an intensely subjective activity, and is meant to be when it deals with drama. In this discussion of Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, for example, the contemporary response to the film becomes the subject of the chapter. For, although the film is much more than what is said about it, it is also less, in that the critical response is part of the overall creative activity involved in a Shakespeare production.

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Editorial Reviews

Coursen (Director of Education, Northeastern US, Shakespeare Globe Center) examines modern interpretations of Shakespeare's work within the context of New Historicism, looking at films and teleplays from the 1930s and beyond. Works discusses include the 1936 film version of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet on film and on modern stages, and Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780821411407
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1996
  • Pages: 301
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.37 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

H.R. Coursen is Director of Education in Northeastern US for the Shakespeare Globe Centre (London) and teaches at the University of Maine, Augusta. His most recent critical work is Reading Shakespeare on Stage (University of Delaware Press, 1995).
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Table of Contents

I Whose History? 3
II Romeo and Juliet: A Beautiful Film for Beautiful People? 28
III "What's There?": Opening Hamlet on Film 54
IV What Happens to The Comedy of Errors on Television? 74
V Branagh's Much Ado: Art and Popular Culture? 90
VI Sorting Well with Fierceness? History Plays: 1993-94 118
VII Is Shakespeare's History Our Own? On Stage in the 1990s 136
VIII "Truth, a Pebble of Quartz?" Hamlet in 1994 I. Shakespeare & Company and Orlando 172
IX "Seems, Madam?": Hamlet in 1994 II. Stratford (Ontario), Ashland, and London 188
X "You Would Be King of the Isle?": The Tyranny of Design: 1994 222
XI Conclusion: "What, Out of This, My Lord?" 246
Credits for Stage Productions 250
Works Cited 256
Index 277
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