Watching Shakespeare on Television
Watching Shakespeare on Television looks at Shakespeare as a cultural phenomenon and at the videocassette as "text" - that is, as an object fixed in time as well as in its assumptions about its medium. Even films made to be shown at a cinema are also designed to become cassettes for the vast "secondary" market. H. R. Coursen's study of Shakespearean films and television productions includes such classics as Olivier's Hamlet and Brook's and Welles's King Lear, as well as more recent productions such as Kevin Kline's and Mel Gibson's Hamlets, Kenneth Branagh's Henvy V, and Peter Greenaway's version of The Tempest, Prospero's Books. Shakespeare's scripts are designed to be "open to interpretation." That openness is not the invention of disciples of Foucault or Derrida. The "meaning" of a Shakespeare script can never be fixed; rather, it is a temporal quality that shows how a script reflects, reinterprets, or reemphasizes the cultural and ideological assumptions of a particular moment in history. Shakespeare remains popular, as Branagh's Henry V, Zeffirelli's Hamlet, and a proliferation of Shakespeare's festivals prove. The energy known as Shakespeare cannot be isolated from the culture that constantly reappropriates the scripts and creates new audiences for them. Shakespeare "works" on television because television is a linguistic medium, and because we are becoming accustomed to the diminished scale of the television (and the videocassette), as opposed to the grander dimensions of cinema. Shakespeare survives domestication, but in ways that demand investigation about why and how the scripts can work on television, and about the nature of this medium when it is charged with Shakespearean energy. Watching Shakespeare on Television looks at Gertrude, a character often clear in performance even if "unwritten" in the script, and at Hamlet's disquisition to Yorick's skull, subject to a wide range of options and interpretations. Other subjects covered are "style" in A Midsummer Night's Dream, particularly the 1982 ART production; the advantages film has over studio productions; and editing scripts for television, with a focus on the Nunn Othello and the Kline Hamlet. In the latter production, long takes contrast with the quicksilver montage technique of Zeffirelli's film version. Another chapter examines Othello as a script demanding a black actor in the lead, and it looks at the Nunn and Suzman versions as cases in point. Closure in Hamlet is analyzed as well: television, the modern medium of political closure, tends to include Fortinbras, as opposed to film which usually excludes him. Another chapter evaluates Prospero's Books, where the importation of television to film tends to erase film's field of depth and results in no improvement, regardless of the trumpeted "technological breakthrough" of high-definition television. Finally, the book peers into the future of Shakespeare's moving image, with attention paid to Peter Donaldson's Interactive Archive at M.I.T.
acting action actors approach asks audience becomes beginning believe calls camera Cassio character claims Claudius close comes course creates critics culture death Desdemona director Dream editing effect effort energy event example experience eyes face fall film final forces Fortinbras frame Gertrude given gives Gravedigger Greenaway Hamlet hand Henry Horatio human Iago Iago's interpretation John kind King Kline language later Lear least light lines live look means medium merely moves nature never occurs Ophelia Othello performance perhaps Peter play political position present Press problem production Prospero Queen recognize relationship response role says scene script seems sense sequence Shakespeare shot shows skull soliloquy space speak speech stage story suggests takes television tell tends theater things tion turns University watching Yorick York