Literature and Theatre

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From woman’s film to global melodrama
Kinga Földváry

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.

in Cowboy Hamlets and zombie Romeos
A renaissance of vampires and zombies
Kinga Földváry

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.

in Cowboy Hamlets and zombie Romeos
Versions of the author in contemporary biopics
Kinga Földváry

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.

in Cowboy Hamlets and zombie Romeos
Western adaptations of Shakespeare
Kinga Földváry

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.

in Cowboy Hamlets and zombie Romeos
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The spectator’s God’s-eye view
Daisy Black

The conclusion turns a critical lens on the academic periodisation of ‘medieval’ and ‘early modern’ performance forms and the supersessionary models of theatre they produce. First, it extends discussions of subjective experiences of time to focus on a play’s spectators. It identifies in the York Fall of the Angels a contract of temporal double-think required from audience members who knew and anticipated a play’s plot, yet were simultaneously engaged with the ‘now’ of the performance. It also examines what happens to this God-like perspective if a play breaks this contract of narrative anticipation. Second, it discusses an episode from the 1611 manuscript of the Cornish Gwreans an bys, in which Seth makes a conscious effort to preserve historical knowledge for future generations by burying books. It argues that this apocryphal episode is not merely an act of pleasurable nostalgia: it operates as an act of resistance towards consigning the popular stories of the old faith to the past.

in Play time
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Daisy Black
in Play time
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Fantasies of supersession and explosive questions in the York and Chester Flood plays
Daisy Black

This chapter argues that the dramatisation of the Flood in the York and Chester plays complicates questions of supersession and typology further by demonstrating that the conflict between Noah and his wife lies in their opposing conceptions of time. Engaging with medieval theories concerning annihilation and renewal as well as more recent works on temporal collapse and explosiveness, it finds that, while Noah adheres to a supersessionary understanding of the Flood which demands a full erasure of the past in order to begin the world anew, his wife engages with models that command the explosive ability to recall the past into the present. Tracking the history of the rebellious wife figure to its earliest versions in European manuscript illumination as well as in Jewish and Muslim folklore, this chapter argues that, when placed on the medieval pageant, the disobedience legend moves beyond its frequent assignment within the problematic medieval trope of the ‘unruly woman’. Where Noah seeks to re-assert distance between past and present, Noah’s wife and her gossips collapse times into simultaneity.

in Play time
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What God was doing before he created the world
Daisy Black

This book opens by providing an alternative answer to the question addressed by St Augustine in his Confessions: ‘what was God doing before he created the world?’ It argues that the saint’s visceral longing to physically resurrect a figure from the Hebrew past, to have Moses before him, to ‘clasp him and . . . beg him to explain to me the creation’, holds much in common with lay performances of religious plays in England’s civic centres between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Examining the York Fall of the Angels Barker’s pageant, the chapter demonstrates how, like Augustine, medieval dramatists needed to negotiate various models of time and eternity. Noting that contesting figurations of time are drawn into relief at moments of transition and in extra-Biblical episodes of conflict between men and women, the introduction grounds this reading within recent research into gender and Jewish studies. This analysis introduces the three questions which inform this study’s central theme of conflict: first, what happens when moments in time are not universally experienced in the same way; second, what tensions emerge when Bible times are introduced to a medieval present; third, how do subjective experiences of time shape the conflicts the plays stage between Bible figures?

in Play time
Linear time and Jewish conversion in the N-Town plays
Daisy Black

Chapter 1 foregrounds the key issues of this study through a close examination of an event frequently treated in medieval and modern chronologies as a point of transition. Christ’s virgin conception formed the basis of medieval dramatisations of Joseph’s doubts about Mary. The N-Town manuscript plays amplify these doubts further than the other surviving pageants, confronting Mary with a string of sceptical characters who demand she repeatedly prove her purity. This chapter, however, draws attention to the play’s emphasis on Joseph’s elderly, decrepit body, arguing that it casts him as representative of a law which offers little scope for comprehending the virgin pregnancy. While Mary reconciles her virgin, pregnant state through her typological (mis)reading of the book of Isaiah, Joseph, as the first Jew to encounter this ‘new’ law, inhabits a different time-frame. Interrogating how the Holy Couple’s conflict is embodied in the N-Town Joseph’s Doubt, the chapter examines the play’s utilisation of medieval anti-Semitic tropes to navigate typological models which re-fashioned the past through appropriating it. It finds that medieval scholarly questions about when ‘Christian’ time began also posed a practical problem for those representing biblical texts in drama.

in Play time
Temporal origami in the Towneley Herod the Great
Daisy Black

This chapter asks what happens when dramatic personae recognise that they occupy a time of theological transition and take steps to prevent it. Engaging with Michel Serres’ model of folded, topological time, it examines how the Towneley Herod the Great amplifies the ways in which its bible source brings together multiple events from Hebrew and Christian scripture in processes of prophecy and validation. Evaluating how Herod and the Bethlehem mothers attempt to exert agency over time, the chapter finds in the play evidence of a complex medieval understanding of the ways in which religious and scriptural time works. This produces a new reading of the favourite tyrant of medieval drama. Terrified of both past and future (or, rather, what past Hebrew ‘prophecies’ tell him about the future), Herod enacts a devastating act of violence in an attempt to tear his own pages out of history. However, as this chapter shows, Herod’s temporal machinations, along with the mothers’ resistance, have the effect of binding moments in Christian and Hebrew history securely together.

in Play time