Will in the Wild West
Western adaptations of Shakespeare
in Cowboy Hamlets and zombie Romeos
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The chapter analyses six Shakespeare adaptations that display elements of the western genre. The chronological arrangement of the films highlights the socio-historical context of their original production, from the optimistic post-war western’s belief in progress and reconstruction, through the psychologically inflected 1950s films’ anxieties about the moral dissolution within the family sphere, to a comic variant from the 1960s. From the late 1960s, a so-called spaghetti western exemplifies the formula’s renewed vitality in European filmmaking, and the chapter ends with a 1970s road movie displaying the influence of revisionist westerns. The analyses comment on the use of the western’s iconography and narrative formulas, and several core themes and concerns of the genre are also discussed, including the significance of the frontier in the American imagination, the Wild West’s paradoxical representations as garden or desert and the controversial interpretations of tradition versus progress. The analyses also highlight a number of subtle changes in the characteristic gender roles within the western, showing how the seemingly clichéd, often marginalised, female roles exemplify broader social concerns and trends.

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