Broadcasting a Sinister 'Jacobean' Aesthetic from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse: Sightlines, Camerawork and Websterian Dramaturgy in Ian Russell's The Duchess of Malfi (BBC Four, 2014)
- Shakespeare Bulletin
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 37, Number 4, Winter 2019
- pp. 511-535
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This essay examines the television broadcast of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi in May 2014, recorded with six cameras across two performances of Dominic Dromgoole's inaugural production at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse by Ian Russell a few months earlier. The broadcast and its paratextual framing are of interest because they clearly stand apart from their Shakespearean counterparts. The venue of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the target medium of television, and Webster's distinctly non-Shakespearean dramaturgy, the essay argues, played a crucial role in creating a quite idiosyncratic televisual "Jacobean" aesthetic that stands at odds with the expectations surrounding cinematic Shakespeare broadcasts. This aesthetic includes a deliberately dark tone that includes moments of actual invisibility, an approach to verse speaking that cuts across lyrical lines and breaks up soliloquies, multifaceted characterization that resembles the fragmentation of the body familiar from the early modern poetic blazon, and "sinister" camerawork which disrupts "suture" and dissociates the television viewer from the audience in the theatre. The essay concludes that the specifically "Jacobean" features of this broadcast enable a reassessment of some key conventions associated with Shakespeare broadcasts and expose the extent to which the uncritical acceptance of specifically Shakespearean features as normative extends even to the hybrid medium of theatre broadcasting.