The volume offers a new method of interpreting screen adaptations of Shakespearean drama, focusing on the significance of cinematic genres in the analysis of films adapted from literary sources. The book’s central argument is rooted in the recognition that film genres may provide the most important context informing a film’s production, critical and popular reception. The novelty of the volume is in its use of a genre-based interpretation as an organising principle for a systematic interpretation of Shakespeare film adaptations. The book also highlights Shakespearean elements in several lesser-known films, hoping to generate new critical attention towards them. The volume is organised into six chapters, discussing films that form broad generic groups. Part I comprises three genres from the classical Hollywood era (western, melodrama and gangster noir), while Part II deals with three contemporary blockbuster genres (teen film, undead horror and the biopic). The analyses underline elements that the films have inherited from Shakespeare, while emphasising how the adapting genre leaves a more important mark on the final product than the textual source. The volume’s interdisciplinary approach means that its findings are rooted in both Shakespeare and media studies, underlining the crucial role genres play in the production and reception of literature as well as in contemporary popular visual culture.
The chapter presents the book’s main thesis, arguing for a genre-based interpretation of film adaptations of literary works and pointing out the advantages of such a method over the traditional fidelity-based approach. It reflects briefly on the historical development of genre studies, and on the absence of genre as a central element from both mainstream and more recent adaptation criticism, particularly Shakespeare on screen studies. Since 2010, Shakespeare adaptation research has turned increasingly towards new media and the destabilisation of several fundamental concepts, including film, adaptation, even Shakespeare, or the changes associated with the digitally networked participation characterising contemporary cultural production and consumption. The concept of the rhizome and its use in rhizomatic adaptation criticism is also considered; the applicability of the concept for the genre-based research exemplified by the volume is pointed out. The chapter, however, confirms its belief in the broad applicability of generic categories and encourages the use of this method of adaptation analysis for screen products based on non-Shakespearean literary sources as well. The final section of the chapter describes the criteria of selecting the films included in the volume and offers a brief overview of the book’s structure.
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.
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 discusses the common debates concerning the film noir as a genre, and, based on the clearly recognisable core elements of the group, argues for the practical applicability of the label, placing it within the context of the thriller and the gangster genre, both of which show considerable overlaps with noir. After the examination of two classic examples of 1940s film noir, both displaying a central interest in male psychology, anxiety and crime, the second half of the chapter looks at post-war gangster films, one from the 1950s, another from 1990, a significant moment in the revival of the gangster genre. The visuality of these films continues to bear clear traces of the noir, but the increased role of violence, together with the protagonists’ changed moral stance, mark them as different from the earlier products. The final example comes from the twenty-first century, an indie neo-noir production, which employs the generic elements of the police drama as well as the gangster film. The range of films examined in the chapter offer convincing proof both for the continued influence of the gangster and noir formulas, and for their ability to adapt to the given socio-historical context.
The chapter examines the teen film, one of the most significant genres dominating the global film industry since the 1990s. After a brief overview of the socio-economic background of the genre’s recent popularity, the chapter focuses on the common features of the group, from character types, typical settings, the role of the soundtrack and the characteristically decontextualised use of textual fragments, through a tendency to present heterosexual romance as ideal, to the genre’s reflection on authority figures, both in the school environment and within the family. Beside the best-known examples of the genre, which all employ the romantic comedy’s narrative structure, the chapter discusses one tragic teen drama and two independent queer productions as well, highlighting their darker social messages, which set them apart from the more light-hearted iterations of the formula. The chapter also argues against the common criticism that teen films are dumbed-down versions of literary masterpieces, pointing out the ways in which these adaptations are consciously shaped to cater for the interests of their target audience.
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.