The chapter presents a brief overview of the various interpretations and definitions of melodrama, reflecting on the term’s associations with music, excessive emotions and the centrality of the female body, and arguing for a more complex understanding of the melodramatic mode, liberating it from the common criticism of triviality and stylistic excess. The examples range from a so-called woman’s film from the 1930s, which foregrounds the female sacrifice and thus centralises the moral teaching embedded within the Shakespearean text, through a British social melodrama from the post-war period, where the moral issues are interconnected with racial anxieties. Another melodramatic adaptation from the 1990s, set in the Midwestern farmlands, emphasises the genre’s associations with feminism, particularly ecofeminism. The last section of the chapter argues that the melodramatic features of the Bollywood film industry show many similarities with the Western iterations of melodrama, and, with the help of a British-Asian melodramatic adaptation, exemplifies the generic hybridity characterising this particular diasporic film market.
The chapter presents the most common arguments behind the recent revival of the subgenres of horror featuring undead characters, particularly vampires or zombies. It also looks at the historical development of the representation of the cinematic undead, pointing out the symptomatic changes that clearly set these post-millennial creatures apart from the classic variants. Focusing on several examples of vampire Shakespeare adaptations, the chapter comments on possible reasons why only a few specific source texts are predominantly adapted into horror films. It is also noted that the majority of the films examined within the chapter are comic adaptations, with one notable exception; some of them are low-budget, even amateur, productions, although the films with lower production qualities are no less creative in their appropriation of the Shakespearean dramatic texts. Most films within the group display clear self-reflexive features, and they are also characterised by melancholy or nostalgia for the past. The chapter also observes similarities between the way teen films and undead horror adaptations deal with the source text’s authority, emphasising the generational connections between the groups. Several critical connections among Shakespeare criticism, adaptation studies and the undead are also presented.
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.
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.
This chapter examines print and manuscript tracts and treatises on Anglo-Scottish union, especially the writings of Francis Bacon and David Hume of Godscroft. These texts offer fertile evidence of both English and Scottish subjects thinking through, articulating and redefining a British, indeed British-Irish, polity. This chapter breaks new ground by exploring connections between Bacon’s political, philosophical and scientific writings within the context of a proposed union; in doing so it captures the boldness and vibrancy of Jacobean responses to the dominant political topic. Bacon’s political writings on union, so often dismissed by scholars as the product of a sycophant, emerge from this chapter as a laboratory for thought about early modern notions of collective identities and cultural hybridity. Concluding this chapter with Bacon's writing on the Ulster plantation – with a cursory glance at Jonson’s Irish Masque – I warn against a too-optimistic recovery of his and others’ seemingly progressive political ideas. Like many of his fellow Jacobeans, including Hume and Robert Pont, Bacon’s views on the native Irish (as well as non-Lowland Scots) are underpinned by deep ethnic and racial prejudices.
The conclusions examines contemporary writing on the idea of ‘Britain’ and tries to verify the accuracy of biased accounts. It also examines the use of terminology in referring to ‘the isle’ and how this ties into appeasing certain monarchs through the late Tudor and early Stewart periods.
English responses to the accession of King James VI and I
This chapter examines English responses to King James VI's accession to England’s throne as registered in the rich and various texts that constitute 1603 succession literature. Voicing relief as well as anxiety, these early Jacobean texts hail the arrival of a male, Protestant king; however, they also evince a struggle to make sense of the arrival of a foreign monarch who, for the first time in history, ruled Great Britain. The succession literature of 1603 emerges from this chapter as a prime repository for gauging the English reception of James.
The introduction sets the landscape by looking at events through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By touching on key moments from the reigns of previous monarchs and their role in shaping Britain (from separate entities into a unified ‘empire’), the context for the following chapters is laid out.
This chapter explores Shakespeare's Macbeth, which was composed and performed at the height of Anglo-Scottish union debate and just as the plethora of union tracts and treatises were circulating. Rather than simply reading ‘the Scottish play' in relation to union debate and dialogue, this chapter treats the play as the profound reflection of an English subject of a Scottish monarch, who was, of course, also that playwright’s patron. Macbeth may not be a British play in the manner of King Lear and Cymbeline, but it does revisit and rewrite Shakespeare’s earlier inscriptions of nationhood as voiced in the Elizabethan history plays by situating them within a larger British-Irish geopolitical framework. Rather than abandoning the patriotic and nationalistic voices that punctuate Shakespeare's earlier histories, this King's Men's play seriously scrutinises such voices. The result, I argue, is not a pro- or anti-union play but instead a play that invites its early modern viewers and readers to reassess Britain's intra- and Britain and Ireland's inter-island relations under the rule of a multisceptred monarch.
The subject of Britain reads key early seventeenth-century texts by Bacon, Daniel, Drayton, Hume, Jonson, Shakespeare and Speed within the context of the triple monarchy of King James VI and I, whose desire to create a united Britain unleashed serious debate and reflection concerning nationhood and national sovereignty. This book traces writing on Britain through a variety of discursive forms: succession literature, panegyric, union tracts and treatises, plays, maps and histories. Attending to the emergence of new ideologies and new ways of thinking about collective identities, The subject of Britain seeks to advance knowledge by foregrounding instances of fruitful cultural production in this period. Bacon’s and Hume’s pronouncements on the common ancestry, the cultural proximity of Britain’s inhabitants, for instance, evinces Jacobean imaginings of peoples and nations joining together, however tenuously. By focusing on texts printed in not just London but also Edinburgh as well as manuscript material that circulated across Britain, this book sheds valuable light on literary and extra-literary texts in relation to the wider geopolitical context that informed, indeed enabled, their production. By combining the historical study of literary and non-literary texts with the history of political thought and the history of the book broadly defined, The subject of Britain offers a fresh approach to a signal moment in the history of early modern Britain. Given its interdisciplinary nature, this book will appeal to literary historians and historians of early modern Britain as well as undergraduates and postgraduates.