categories of Shakespeare



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