Abstract only

This chapter brings three principal French intertexts (and some secondary ones) to bear on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It first argues that Dream evokes a recent play comically adapting Italianate pastoral conventions, La Diane, by Nicolas de Montreux (1594). The next key intertext explored is Le proumenoir (1594), by Marie de Gournay, which offers a feminist slant on the histoire tragique as exemplified by her source, the Champs faëz of Claude de Taillemont. Gournay’s novel presents love as tragic, particularly for women as victims of male inconstancy, as in the legend of Theseus and Ariadne. Gournay introduces this exemplum through the Epithalamium of Catullus, where it counterpoints celebration of a mythical marriage – an effect matching the intrusion of sombre overtones on Shakespeare’s representation of marriage as comic fulfilment. Finally foregrounded is the relation between the burlesque ‘tragedy’ of Pyramus and Thisbe staged by Shakespeare’s Mechanicals and an anonymous Moralité, which illuminates the Mechanicals’ absurd approach to theatrical challenges. Also considered is a poetic reworking of Ovid’s narrative by Antoine de Baïf, which anticipates Shakespeare’s embellishment of this material with humanist trappings. These intertexts highlight the parodic potential Shakespeare exploited in insinuating the fragility of generic boundaries.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It

This chapter proposes that the three Shakespearean comedies set in France (Love’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like It, All’s Well That Ends Well) depend for their effect on particular perceptions and forms of knowledge concerning France on the part of contemporary audiences. The focus is on the earlier two plays, since All’s Well has been considered elsewhere. Love’s Labour’s Lost introduces insistent political allusions (mainly through the names of the characters), which nevertheless resist all efforts to detach them from their romantic-comic frame. The consequence is an unresolvable tension between comic and tragic tendencies that is focused in the unconventional conclusion. As You Like It might be supposed to reject the realistic in favour of the romantic by way of its exotic ‘French’ pastoral source – Thomas Lodge’s novel Rosalynde – but Lodge actually presents his setting with an insistence on material realities. Conversely, even as he downplays Lodge’s French specificity in favour of recognisable elements of ‘Englishness’, Shakespeare attaches to the French setting and characters a dimension of romance resulting in a destabilising doubleness: Arden/Ardennes, Robin Hood/Rowland de Boys.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night

This chapter treats three comedies dating from between 1596 (roughly) and 1604 as experiments in tragicomedy, broadly understood here as an uneasy juxtaposition of comic patterns fulfilled with an affirmation of tragic potential as encoded in the human condition and left suspended at the conclusions. The comic patterns are mainly of Italian origin, but certain tragically tending elements emerge more clearly through hitherto neglected French intertexts. One bearing especially on both Merchant and Measure is a Protestant allegorical morality by Henri de Barran, L’Homme justifié par Foy (1554), which dramatises the Reformation reading of Mankind as doomed by sinfulness according to the Old (Mosaic) Law and redeemable only by the New Law of Mercy. Mankind’s struggle is staged in terms especially evocative of the confrontation between Antonio and Shylock, but light is also shed on the fall, suffering and forgiveness of Angelo. The potentially tragic fate of the latter is also illuminated by the tragedy of Philanire, by Claude Roillet, whose French version presents particular intersections with Measure. Finally, it is argued that the tragicomic associations of Malvolio in Twelfth Night may have been enriched for audiences by knowledge of the contemporary life and writings of Pierre Victor Palma Cayet.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
French inflections

This book discusses Shakespeare’s deployment of French material within genres whose dominant Italian models and affinities might seem to leave little scope for French ones. It proposes specific, and unsuspected, points of contact but also a broad tendency to draw on French intertexts, both dramatic and non-dramatic, to inflect comic forms in potentially tragic directions. The resulting tensions within the genre are evident from the earliest comedies to the latest tragicomedies (or ‘romances’). An introduction establishes the French inflection of Italian modes and models, beginning with The Taming of the Shrew, as a compositional paradigm and the basis for an intertextual critical approach. Next, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is related to three French intertexts highlighting, respectively, its use of pastoral dramatic convention, its colouration by the histoire tragique and its parodic dramatisation of the Pyramus and Thisbe story. The third chapter interrogates the ‘French’ settings found in the romantic comedies, while the fourth applies French intertexts to three middle-to-late comedies as experiments in tragicomedy. Finally, the distinctive form given tragicomedy (or ‘romance’) in Shakespeare’s late production is set against the evolution of tragicomedy in France and related to French intertexts that shed new light on the generic synthesis achieved—and the degree of bricolage employed in achieving it.

Making room for France

This introduction establishes the French inflection of Italian modes and models in Shakespearean comedy as a compositional paradigm and the basis for an intertextual critical approach. After discussion of the broad theoretical principles of such an approach, The Taming of the Shrew is set off against its anonymous analogue, The Taming of a Shrew, so as to throw into relief the latter’s incorporation, in the key passage presenting the heroine’s acceptance of her ‘taming’, of a translation from Guillaume Du Bartas’s La création du monde. The intertextual dynamic thereby set in motion is then applied to Shakespeare’s text, with attention to the different interpretative possibilities thereby made available, given the uncertain relation between the two plays with regard to chronology and authorship.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
The view through French spectacles

This culminating chapter shifts the focus to Shakespeare’s late plays, notably the generically pivotal Pericles (almost certainly a collaboration with George Wilkins) and that supreme instance of Shakespearean tragicomic romance, The Winter’s Tale. The now-dominant critical view of Italian influence is qualified with reference to the diverse kinds and origins of tragicomedy in English, including those with French analogues and those mediated by French sources, notably French versions of the antique novel. The redaction of the Apollonius of Tyre story incorporated by François de Belleforest in his Histoires tragiques receives close attention as an intertext for both Pericles and The Winter’s Tale. Its importance extends to recuperating from the antique romance tradition a notion of tragicomedy as being, in effect, tragédie à fin heureuse. Shakespeare’s use of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais in the translation of John Florio is also reviewed from this perspective – not merely the well-known passage from ‘Of the Caniballes’ adapted in The Tempest, but several textual traces from other essays, previously unnoticed, that arguably shed light on the movement in Shakespeare’s final plays (including Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen, a collaboration with John Fletcher) towards a generic synthesis mirroring an all-inclusive vision of human experience.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
Hollywood, Christians and the American Culture Wars

Mel Gibson’s controversial biblical epic, The Passion of the Christ (2004), failed to secure funding from a major studio, but still managed to turn significant profits (over $83 million just on the opening weekend against a production budget of $30 million). So too have auterist projects such as Darren Aronfsky’s Noah (2014) and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) continued this religious run on the box office, as did Kevin Reynolds’ Risen (2016). In contrast, Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur (2016) bombed (as of early 2018, worldwide grosses have still yet to recoup a production budget of some $100 million). This chapter argues that there remains considerable life in the modern biblical epic, and that these films are generally most successful in bringing old stories to new audiences in the twenty-first-century cultural marketplace. But although such works enjoy a built-in Christian fan-base, this demographic alone is not enough to guarantee box office success. To turn a significant profit, the modern biblical epic also needs to court as much controversy as possible, and thereby capture the attention of the mainstream Hollywood audience, i.e. secular viewers at home and abroad.

in The Bible onscreen in the new millennium
Abstract only
Soft stardom, melodrama and the critique of epic masculinity in Ben-Hur (2016)

In this chapter, I argue that the 2016 Ben-Hur uses the template of its earlier iterations in conjunction with its reliance on a gentler type of epic heroic star to explore a new understanding of Christian masculinity. Gone is the hardness and inflexibility of Heston and Boyd, replaced with a softer, more beautiful Judah and a far more emotively rich Messala. Thus, this iteration of the story of the Jewish prince who learns Christian grace and forgiveness is a critique not just of its 1959 predecessor but also of the millennial cycle of epic films – Gladiator, Troy, 300 – and their attendant hard-bodied heroes. Rather than relying on a sort of Cold War/War on Terror brutal masculinity, this new Ben-Hur argues for a full embrace of an emotional, almost sentimental, form of Christian masculinity.

in The Bible onscreen in the new millennium
New heart and new spirit
Editor: Wickham Clayton

The extreme profitability of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004 came as a great surprise to the Hollywood establishment, particularly considering its failure to find production funding through a major studio. Since then the biblical epic, long thought dead in terms of widespread marketability, has become a viable product. These screen texts, primarily film and television features adapting stories from both the Old and New Testaments, have seen production both inside and outside of Hollywood. Seeking both profits and critical acclaim, as well as providing outlets for auteurist ‘passion projects’ such as Gibson’s film, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014) and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), these texts both follow previous biblical epic traditions, as well as appear distinct stylistically and thematically from the biblical epic in its prime. With 2018 seeing the highly publicised release of Mary Magdalene, an attempt at a feminist take on this controversial figure, as well as Gibson’s announcement that he is in production on a follow-up to The Passion of the Christ, there is no clear evidence that the steady production of biblical media will abate anytime soon. Therefore, academic consideration of the modern biblical epic is both timely and highly relevant. With contributions from scholars such as Mikel J. Koven, Andrew B. R. Elliott and Martin Stollery, and a preface from Adele Reinhartz, this collection aims to be a starting point for initiating this discourse.

Social contexts in L’Inchiesta and Risen

The Italian film L’Inchiesta (1987) and the American film Risen (2016) have many key situations in common, to the point that the American movie can be seen as a remake of sorts. However, both films have completely different endings: while Risen showcases the encounter between the Roman agent and Jesus, thus enthroning traditional religion, L’Inchiesta ends with the Roman agent’s descent into madness and consequent death, the truth forever obliterated. Further, both films are structured as biblical epics blended with the formula of trial films where investigations, interrogations and court scenes are essential, inherently interrogating what justice means. Keeping in mind that the films are biblical, reflections about justice and the nature of good and evil demand close examination. While divine justice trumps human justice in Risen, corrupted human justice trumps divine justice in L’Inchiesta. In this chapter, we point to the ways in which both films tap into social anxieties about religion and justice, following their own social and cultural contexts.

in The Bible onscreen in the new millennium