Will, Bill and the Earl
Versions of the author in contemporary biopics
in Cowboy Hamlets and zombie Romeos
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The chapter discusses the best-known biographical films featuring William Shakespeare as a character, rather than as author of the source text. Like teenpics and undead horror films, the biopic is not a new genre, but its popularity underwent a spectacular revival during the 1990s. Another similarity between the three genres can be noticed in their tendency to undermine the Bard’s textual and cultural authority, and the way they employ fragmented quotations in anachronistic and ahistorical ways, in line with the postmodern era’s predilection for pastiche. All biopics discussed are based on scholarly interpretations of some aspects of Shakespeare’s life and oeuvre, from a Freudian understanding of authorial inspiration, through a theory of the syphilitic Shakespeare, to the Oxfordian theory of authorship. Most of these films can also be seen as generic hybrids, mixing the biopic’s conventions with elements of the romantic comedy, the thriller or television edutainment. At the same time, they also illustrate the genre’s tendency to be rooted in two historical eras, authenticating their narratives with historical references to the early modern era, including several literary authors from the age, while attracting the interests of millennial and post-millennial audiences with the use of contemporary visual or thematic elements.

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