- Shakespeare and the English-Speaking Cinema by Russell Jackson, and: Screening Early Modern Drama: Beyond Shakespeare by Pascale Aebischer, and: Avant-Garde Hamlet: Text, Stage, Screen by R. S. White, and: Shakespeare and YouTube: New Media Forms of the Bard by Stephen O’Neill, and: Shakespeare and the Digital World: Redefining Scholarship and Practice ed. by Christie Carson and Peter Kirwan
This review brings together a handful of books that speak to each other in interesting ways, providing a snapshot of current scholarship on the (mainly) non-theatrical performance of Shakespeare and other early modern drama.
Russell Jackson is an elder statesman of Shakespeare on film, having served as Kenneth Branagh’s textual advisor, as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, and as the author of Shakespeare Films in the Making (2007) and Theatres on Film (2013). His authoritative tone in Shakespeare and the English-Speaking Cinema is supremely well earned, and although his debt to other scholars is seldom overt in the pages of his monograph he does acknowledge it in his introduction, bibliography, useful “Further Reading” section, and dedication to two of the greats, Kenneth Rothwell and Bernice Kliman. While Jackson very occasionally mentions recent scholarship, the sense, in this book, is of a master secure in his own knowledge articulating his remarkable understanding of the field rather than wading into any disciplinary quarrels. Indeed, as he explains in his preface and in the epilogue “Please [End Page 347] Rewind,” Jackson made a decision to sideline scholarly debate in favor of his own close analysis of films that, to him, reach the standard of the iconic or important. The result is a highly readable account that, unusually, considers Shakespeare on film transversally. Instead of focusing on close readings of individual films, comparisons between different film versions of a single play, or analyses of the output of a particular director, Jackson tackles his subject in rather idiosyncratic chapters dedicated to topics including location, character, romantic relationships, politics, and offshoots. These loose and often overlapping groupings allow Jackson to range freely over a lifetime’s accumulation of insights brought to bear on films that he has watched afresh while writing this book. One could read this and develop a very strong sense, from a trusted expert, of the filmography that each of the other books under review are, in one way or another, defining themselves against.
In Screening Early Modern Drama, Pascale Aebischer, building on Susan Bennett’s groundbreaking work in Performing Nostalgia (1996), brings Bennett’s sense of the transgressive contemporary Jacobean up to date by considering how it applies to a growing body of what Aebischer characterizes as “preposterous” films by Derek Jarman, Mike Figgis, Alex Cox, and Sarah Harding. Like Bennett’s chapter on then-recent stage productions of Jacobean plays, Aebischer’s study of early modern drama on film is much more interested in theorizing their implications than in describing them for her readers. This can be a little frustrating when the films under discussion are not readily available since the synopses she provides are necessarily brief and quite tantalizing, but her approach has the effect of encouraging readers to seek out these films, even the ones that sound completely terrible in the most interesting ways.
Engaging with contemporary theories about both the Shakespearean and the international, potentially post-national, cinematic contexts of these films, Aebischer considers how the productive tension that Bennett identified between Jacobean transgression...