All the frontier’s a stage
Deadwood
in Serial Shakespeare
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Beginning with a macabre performance of a scene from King Lear in Deadwood, this chapter focusses on the Shakespearean dramaturgy of this TV drama. The overarching claim is that David Milch rethinks the Western genre by tapping into Shakespeare’s trope of the world as stage. Al Swearengen’s monologues with the head of a dead Sioux chief as well as the way he conceives of his balcony as his private stage, are read in conjunction with the theatricalization of power in Hamlet. The dramatic tension between legitimate and rogue power at issue in Al’s claim to sovereignty also brings the genre of comedy into play. Characters and the role they play in the dramatic action in Measure for Measure and As You Like It are crossmapped with the set of characters that perform their parts on the thoroughfare of this camp town. The topsy-turvy world of comedy is further revisited in the enmeshment of parallel storylines in Deadwood. Oscillating between the various players and those who orchestrate the drama, this serial mode of narration draws into focus that there is no one unequivocal centre, putting into question the omnipotence of Al’s visual regime. At the same time, Shakespeare is shown once again to write the prototypical American myth, the Western frontier.

Serial Shakespeare

An infinite variety of appropriations in American TV drama

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