Categories Of Shakespeare Essay Research Paper Categories

Categories Of Shakespeare Essay, Research Paper

Categories of Shakespeare

When dealing with text of Jacobean writers such as

Shakespeare, one has a great deal of freedom in interpreting

it. His words are full of not only meaning, but entendres,

alliterations, and metaphors that allows a great deal of

artistic freedom when actualizing it into performance.

Perhaps that is why his plays have been a longtime favorite

standard performance material, and more recently ( the past

100 years), have become very popular to produce and present

in the film medium.

What allows for Shakespeare to be presented so easily

on film, despite the fact they were written hundreds of

years ago when the very idea of film was nonexistent, is the

utter portability of his works. By portability I mean there

is so much in his plays that can be transposed and realized

so beautifully in the movies. The works give a lot of

visual freedom to the director, as Shakespeare writes few

stage directions. The concept of visual also plays a huge

part in any film, as Peter Holland recognizes in his article

?Two dimensional Shakespeare: ?King Lear on Film?? when he

states that ?Film is primarily a visual medium, a form in

which language accompanies sight but cannot dominate it

(Davies and Wells, pg.59).? Therefore, film provides a

landscape for the enactment of Shakespeare drama?s and allow

them to be realizes in greater proportions than the

restrictions of stage allow.

However, presenting Shakespeare on film, which is a

medium other than which his works are originally intended,

seems to warrant more debate and criticism than ordinary

theatrical presentations. Additionally, because of the

large amount of film versions of each play, it becomes

quickly necessary for a means of categorizing the films of

Shakespeare as an agency to compare, contrast, critique, and

most importantly, understand not only the work itself, but

the value of the work artistically, textually, and in its

materialization as a work as a whole. To solve these

dilemma, ?In 1977 Jack Jorgens offered three categories

into which Shakespeare films can be usefully divided,

categories which mark different and increasing distances

from the forms of theater… He suggested three modes:

theatrical, realist, cinematic (Davies and Wells, pg.50).?

These three modes are very useful at looking at Shakespeare

films and there presentation on film.

Theatrical mode of presentation most generally means a

production that is presented in the same style as would an

actual live theater performance of Shakespeare, and

generally tend to be just that: a filmed performance of his

work. This type of film is characterized by elements of

theater, theatrical lighting, costuming, acting, and most

specifically, tends to have more medium and long range shots

than the realist and filmic modes.

The second category Jorgens determined is the realist

mode. The realist mode is an intermediate ground between

the theatrical and filmic: that is, its intention is for

film, but still desires to stay true to the intentions of

Shakespeare, taking into consideration the time period the

play is written in, and tries not to modify the text too

much. The realist mode is a way of taking a Shakespearean

work and presenting it in an manner that is trying , mostly

to merely represent the works of Shakespeare yet at the same

time enhancing it by making ?use of the full range of

established film techniques (Davies and Wells, pg. 53).?

Grigori Kozintsev?s King Lear falls under this mode of

presentation. The 1970 Russian translation of the work

includes sprawling landscapes in black ad white, whose

presence often seems to rival that of the actors, a danger

Holland realizes when he says ?At times, of course, the

background can take too much precedence over the foreground

(Davies and Wells, pg. 53).? The work also falls into

another danger of cinematic realism and Shakespeare that

Holland says ?is tightly bound up with a traditional

liberal- humanist ideology. It makes assumptions about the

essential truth of the humanism of a tragedy (Davies and

Wells, pg. 55).? Kozintsev?s King Lear is based upon his

definition of reality being emptiness. He demonstrates this

emptiness through his demonstration of the film in a

?Movement of the play from fiction into realism (Davies and

Wells, pg.55)? and a process for Kozintsev that Holland

describes ?as a stripping away of the social mask, the mask

of power, to reveal the ?essential? self beneath (Davies and

Wells, pg.55).? In this, we can see how his production

largely embodies the Marxism statement that Kozintsev was

trying to make, a dangerous move in the corrupt and

Communist Russia he was living in.

Two versions of Macbeth, both Polanski?s Macbeth and

Kurosawa?s ?Throne of Blood?, also fall under this category

of realism, and like Kozintsev?s King Lear, largely

incorporate the landscapes of the play, the background seems

more balanced with the action of the play, and rather than

competing with the action, they seem to actually reinforce

the story. Contrary to theatrical presentations of

Shakespeare, these bigger proportions allow the story to be

presented in grander, yet more definitive terms that seems

to give way to the more realistic style of filmed


The third category of Shakespeare film is the filmic

mode. The filmic mode is a method that Jorgen himself

describes as that ??of the poet, whose works bear the same

relation to the surfaces of reality that poems do to

ordinary conversation (Davies and Wells, pg.56).?? Thus the

filmic is a highly visual presentation of Shakespeare, and

with the very nature of film be a fulfillment of the

director?s vision, it allows the director to take more

artistic liberty with a Shakespearean work than the other

two modes. Peter Holland expands ?The filmic mode uses all

the resources if the camera. It makes conscious use of what

the camera can do, rather than what can be built on the

studio sound stage or found on location. It places emphasis

on montage and demands that we observe what it is doing,

what is theatrically impossible and indeed, in some cases,

filmically unusual (Davies and Wells, pg.57).?

Orson Welles?s 1951 version of Othello is the perfect

example of the capabilities that a filmic mode enables to

define it against the theatrical presentation. Holland

gives an example of a specific scene to illustrate: ?Wells

filmed Othello in the senate scene of Act I against

different background from the other characters in the same

scene so that the two worlds never quite match up and the

audience cannot quite see Othello being in the same room as

the Venetian senate; the effect is to demonstrate the

complete separation of Othello from the world of Venice

(Davies and Wells, pg.57).? Obviously, the filmic mode

allows the director to use methods (whether blatant or

subtly sub- conscious) to give the audience the greatest and

more interactive experience in sympathizing with the story.

A fourth mode of Shakespeare that Holland proposed was

that of deconstruction. This method is one that is based

around work(s) of Shakespeare, yet edits the material

drastically, either by taking away or adding to it (or a

combination of both) to make a commentary on the nature of

the work itself as Shakespeare intended it. While this

category is much harder to define than the other three, it

is important to note that this category nonetheless

incorporates the original text as the film?s main basis.

There also a second group of categories that Jorgens

offers as ?defining three ways of treating a Shakespeare

play, three degrees of distance from the original:

presentation, interpretation, and adaptation (Davies and

Wells, pg.57).? The second category varies from the first

because the first category of four modes? main purpose is to

?chart different distances of the film from theater (Davies

and Wells, pg.57).?

I think that all of the aforementioned categories are

very useful and thorough tools in viewing not only a play by

Shakespeare that has been adapted to film but are essential

when making and/or viewing any work whose original text is

meant for the stage. These categories instigate a line of

rational questioning that is necessary in maintaining the

artistic integrity of a work. Tennessee William?s plays are

another favorite of filmmakers to carry over into the film

medium, and they are only one of many examples of the

multitudes of work that is frequently taken from the stage

to the big screen. However, perhaps because of the large

cannon of work that Shakespeare has written or perhaps

because of his brilliant psychological insight of character

that allows for easy demonstration of both the inner and

outer worlds of the character, Shakespeare still reigns

supreme as the playwright whose works are not only most

commonly cited but also commonly enacted, whether in film or

theater, and Jorgen?s and Holland?s categories give us the

viewer and critic an methodical approach at understanding

the artistic and technical accomplishments of a presentation

of the Great Bard?s work.

Davies and Wells, Shakespeare and the Moving Image: the

Plays on Film and Television; Cambridge University Press:

Cambridge, 1994


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