The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film

The Cambridge Companion to

Shakespeare On Film

Edited by Russell Jackson

Cambridge University Press

£16.99 (paperback) ISBN: 9780521685016

£50.00 (hardback) ISBN: 9780521866002

In this book’s Introduction: ‘Shakespeare, films and the marketplace,’ Russell Jackson writes: ‘’one might argue that if ‘ideas’ are defined less restrictively, the tension between ‘Shakespeare,’ ideas and big business has yielded an engaging variety of cinematic results.’’

That the above tension has manifested in a menagerie of cinematic results, should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever; especially given the sheer volume of Shakespeare’s writing, not to mention said writing’s ever-increasing vicissitude of interpretation. An interpretation, which, in recent years, has done much to deny the aforementioned tension between Shakespeare the playwright and Shakespeare the idea. This was surely substantiated by the romantic comedy Shakespeare In Love (1998), wherein the dramatist of late sixteenth-century Stratford-upon-Avon, is, through Joseph Fiennes, suddenly thrust into a late twentieth-century rendition of Romeo-upon-Thames: all sex’n’ale’n’fringe of a foppish persuasion to boot.

Suddenly, Shakespeare is seen as being suave and sexy, and no longer regarded as ye dusty olde relic of yesteryear. Suddenly, Russell Jackson’s ‘tension’ could be considered as nothing other than a subliminal import; which, in relation to ‘big business,’ is no longer pertinent. No longer valid – wherein the likes of Simon Cowell, could just as easily cast aside any trajectory of tension, as if it were a) his own mother and/or b) Banquo were his own conscience.

Returning to Shakespeare and popular culture (along with the cultural constituencies they represent), Jackson argues that Shakespeare In Love: ‘’wittily puts the dramatist into the world of show business. Shakespeare’s relationship with the theatre manager, Henslowe – and through him with ‘the money’ – is the occasion for a multitude of jokes referring to the entertainment industry of late sixteenth-century London in terms of its equivalent four hundred years later […]. The tension between the artist and the marketplace has always been a good source of humour in drama and fiction and on film, and by situating a parody of it in Shakespeare’s time, the film probably makes it seem less harmful than it really is. The story is usually told in terms of the crassness of the producers and the crushed idealism of the ‘creative’ department. To quote Pauline Kael, ‘There’s a natural war in Hollywood between the business men and the artists. It’s based on drives that may go deeper than politics or religion: on the need for status, and warring dreams.’’’

It is this tension betwixt ‘’the crushed idealism of the creative department’’ and an artistry which goes way, way beyond ‘’politics and religion,’’ upon which The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film fundamentally shines its rather dense, acerbic and more than academic light.

A fascinating analysis of a wondrous subject, this book is an essential contribution to the library of all serious film buffs and Shakespearean anoraks alike. From the Italianisation of Shakespeare via Franco Zeffirelli, right through to the rigorous historicising and politicisation of Shakespeare’s media configurations (of which there are indeed many), these seventeen essays are simply crucial.

David Marx


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