Serial Shakespeare explores the dissemination and reassemblage of Shakespeare’s plays in contemporary media culture, regarding the way this taps into but also transforms his preferred themes, concerns and constellations of characters. The appropriations discussed include isolated citations in Westworld and The Wire, a typology of the first female president modelled on figures of female sovereignty, as well as a discussion of what one might call a specifically Shakespearean dramaturgy in Deadwood and The Americans. By proposing a reciprocal exchange between the early modern plays and contemporary serial TV drama, the book focusses on the transhistoric and transmedial dialogue a revisitation of the Bard entails. The readings consider the Shakespeare text again, from a different perspective, but also address the fact that his text comes back to us again, from the past. The book claims that serial TV drama keeps appropriating Shakespeare to give voice to unfinished cultural business regarding the state of the American nation because both share the sense of writing in and for a period of interim. Given that the Bard continues to write and read America, what the book draws into focus is how both scriptwriters and cultural critics can, by repurposing him, come up with narratives that are appropriate to our times.
’s resuscitation in contemporary serial TV drama, which the following chapters will explore. The term I propose for my own method of apprehending this serial encounter is ‘crossmapping’, because I want to underscore the reciprocity at issue in charting the superimposition of early modern and contemporary texts. 27
In so doing, I draw on what Mieke Bal calls doing a ‘preposterous’ form of historical reading to investigate the recycling that plays from the past have undergone in contemporary TV drama, only to colour our conception of this past. As Bal explains, such revision
Arnold, as well as Ford and his assistant Bernard. By crossmapping the constellation of characters from the television drama back on to the dramatis personae from The Tempest , Romeo and Juliet , and King Lear , a dramaturgic density can be uncovered. This involves not only the spectral presence of these plays in Westworld , but also the way, given their mutual entanglement in this television drama, they can be shown to haunt each other. Or put another way, the serial logic of Westworld is not only reflected in the repetitive use of a set of Shakespeare quotes
typology of Shakespeare’s queens. My crossmapping proposes that Veep taps into the dark side of comedy and, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream , humiliation is the price the anti-heroine pays for her resistance against the men who try to keep her in her place. Homeland , in turn, borrows from Shakespeare’s first tetralogy the quandary of a female ruler, calamitously caught up in internal political strife among her peers because she is a foreigner. Finally, Scandal offers a jubilatory spin on the villainess of tragedy, moving, as Antony and Cleopatra does, from the
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.
time, he and his scriptwriters also draw on serial narration to render visible how each individual part of the five seasons of The Wire is incomplete in itself, not only because all the individual stories are all interlinked but also because the systemic conflict that holds them together is irresolvable.
The point of departure for the crossmapping proposed in this chapter is a conversation that takes place early on in ‘The Buys’. 4
Two of Avon Barksdale’s foot soldiers, Bodie and Wallace, are sitting in ‘the pit’, a courtyard in one of the West Baltimore
the head of counter-intelligence at the FBI, Elizabeth taunts him, saying ‘no knock on your charms there, Romeo’. 15
He will prove her wrong, committing bigamy by marrying Martha to make her go for this ruse.
The point of departure for the crossmapping this final chapter explores is not, however, any actual Shakespeare citation. Instead, the correspondence it proposes is that the topsy-turvy world of festive comedy has an analogy in the equally carnivalesque world of Cold War espionage. While I will place A Midsummer Night’s Dream in conversation with The
A series of first female presidents from Commander in Chief to House of Cards
this demonised queen, we might ask what residual images of female sovereignty are garnered here? Are we today both as intrigued and as conflicted by the nature of the first female president as the Elizabethans were by the nature of queenship? Antiquity may, as Mary Beard has demonstrated, be another source for the cultural template that continues to conceive of women as belonging outside power so that when they are in power, they ‘are seen as taking something to which they are not entitled’. 25
Crossmapping television’s first female presidents with Shakespeare