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Reviewed by:
  • Almost Shakespeare: Reinventing His Works for Cinema and Television
  • Nicholas Jones
Almost Shakespeare: Reinventing His Works for Cinema and Television. Ed. James R. Keller and Leslie Stratyner. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland, 2004. Pp. vi + 197. $32.

Readers of a certain age will remember when collections of critical essays were essential teaching tools. In the days before JSTOR, electronic reserve, and even photocopiers, the only way to get undergraduates to study criticism was to make them buy paperback collections like the Prentice-Hall series called Twentieth Century Interpretations. The essays in those volumes had already appeared in print, either as part of a single-author book or as an article in one of the "big journals"—PMLA, JGEP, and so on. I expect they represented, more or less, the seminar reading lists of the editors; using them was like getting an insight into the style of a scholar-teacher like David Bevington, Alfred Harbage, or David Young. It was nice to know that someone—hopefully someone you'd like to study with—had found these articles helpful in teaching Shakespeare.

Technologies have changed, and we don't need such compilations any more. Some publishers do still give us essays appended to editions of the plays: I have had students buy Suzanne Wofford's useful edition of Hamlet (Bedford-St. Martin's, 1994), with its representative samples and explanations of feminist criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, and so on. Increasingly, though, we find the kind of collection that that this review focuses on: a collection of original essays. James Keller and Leslie Stratyner have added to the growing series of such volumes containing a wealth of new articles on Shakespeare, film, television, and popular culture (for example, Boose and Burt's Shakespeare: The Movie and Shakespeare: The Movie II, and Burnett and Wray's Shakespeare, Film, Fin de Siècle). This new collection has several essays that should find a place in syllabi for courses on Shakespeare and film, and the volume as a whole makes an excellent quick read for any Shakespearean with an eye to the questions of adaptation (or, as the editors wisely call it, "reinvention"). I suspect, however, that at $32 the volume is too expensive and (like most such collections of original essays) too diverse in content and method to be picked up as a required text in many courses.

The focus of Keller and Stratyner's collection is "Shake/spawn"—films and TV shows "that are derivative of Shakespeare, but are not actually Shakespearean productions" (3). The editors offer the collection in part to assuage anxieties that "Shakespeare seems to be suffering from a multiple personality disorder" (1), losing his identity through his texts' multiple and often idiosyncratic appearances in teen films and TV dramas. These "apparitions," write Keller and Stratyner, "vex those who wonder that he would appear in such degraded settings" (1). Readers likely to delve into this volume are probably not too vexed: I'd guess that we already believe that these "apparitions" speak to us. At any rate, the editors counter the anxiety over Shakespeare's disintegration by citing Shakespeare's own practice of reinventing culture: as he was "responsive to the popular demand [End Page 71] for sequels and recurrent characters" (2), we should not be alarmed to see his works reinvented in contemporary forms. Moreover, they rightly assert, the wit involved in some of these reinventions—Macbeth in a fast food restaurant, for example—more than resembles the well-explicated and time-honored discordia concors of 17th-century poetic conceit, "two incongruous ideas hammered into a poetic harmony" (3). Part of the pleasure of this volume is its surveying the wit and invention of creative responses to Shakespeare.

Of the twelve contributions to this volume, one very likely to contribute directly to further study is a bibliography of film and television derivatives compiled by José Ramón Díaz Fernández. One might think that in an age of online resources like the World Shakespeare Bibliography, a printed bibliography would be an anachronism. But a listing like this is very useful. One can easily notice, for example, the difference between there being only one derivative listed for...


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