January 14-16, 2000

The recent success of John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth (1998), as well as the continued popularity of Kenneth Branagh's adaptations (from his Henry V in 1989, to his full-text, four-hour Hamlet of 1996) has generated enormous interest in the Bard's life, work, and era among a mass audience of moviegoers. Outside of the film industry itself, Shakespeare's recent explosion onto the screen has prompted film scholars, Shakespeareans, and cultural historians alike to ask fundamental questions about the filmic adaptation of Shakespeare and of the literary text more generally. Though hardly the product of one culture or generation alone, what can we make of this phenomenon? What can the filmic representation of Shakespeare's life and work teach us about constructions of cultural value, practices of cultural translation, and the media through which we represent and make sense of the past?

From the earliest adaptations to film, Bardolators and literary purists have objected to the perversion of Shakespeare's original text and intent. Of course, every production of a Shakespeare play, no matter how "authentically" conceived, is an act of mediation. Rather than simply dismiss the issue of artistic purism, however, we might ask what valid questions the debate continues to raise. At a general level, the discussion asks us to consider what transformations occur in the shift from text (or stage) to screen, and what potential losses and gains are incurred through this translation of media. Beyond this particular debate, however, the filmic adaptation of Shakespeare raises other equally pressing questions: What are the ideological or political ends to which Shakespeare's work has been and continues to be put? What is the significance of our own mass-cultural interest in this most visible of cultural icons? And what can the filmic use of Shakespeare (his work, life, and era) tell us about the way we use the film medium to re-present the past?

Calling on both film scholars and literary historians, our seminar will investigate film's ongoing fascination with the man, the work, and the era. In addition to asking fundamental questions about film adaptation generally, our seminar will consider case studies from a number of cultural and historical contexts. Topics to be discussed may include the interaction between the early modern and the post-modern in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet (1996), the recent portrayals of the Elizabethan era and of Queen Elizabeth herself, and the adaptations of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, including his Throne of Blood (1965) and Ran (1985).

Speakers will include David Bevington (English and Comparative Literature), Thomas R. Gunning (Art History and the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies), David Levin (Germanic Studies), and Janel Mueller (Dean of the Humanities, English).