In the name of Shakespeare
Throughout the entire semester of Transmedial Shakespeare, we looked across the many different ways that Shakespeare managed to make himself and his works an integral part of human culture. We learned the history of Shakespeare, and how back then he was quite different from the cultural icon that he is today. We attempted to trace the progress of when and how Shakespeare came to be recognized in the modern times, going back and forth across various readings, trying to find the story behind Shakespeare’s rise to prominence in society. We saw the prominent influence Shakespeare’s many works had on the artists that followed in the centuries after him. We saw him subjected to commercialism, philosophy, parodies, and radical re-interpretations, each one a distinctly different form but always managing to keep in line with the Shakespearian idea.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the course for me, however, was when we got nearer the end of the semester, and began looking at the interpretations and re-interpretations of Shakespearian works. This is when we touched on the topic of the differences between stage-Shakespeare movies and movie-Shakespeare movies. Stage-Shakespeare movies often stayed as true to the original text as possible, with actors speaking the lines word for word. In effect, they simply recorded what you would find in a theatre, except with a bit more fanciful set design and costumes. Movie-Shakespeare movies, however, changed the way we saw Shakespeare’s works. While they would still follow the storylines, movie adaptations would (usually) forego the classic dialogue of Shakespeare, and instead make use of languages more in the keeping of the times. What I noticed, though, was that everything we watched only concerned how Shakespearean plays were being “modernized”, in a way. So one day, as I was browsing through the internet, I stumbled upon these.
These videos show a modern movie turned into a stage play. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Pulp Fiction was directed by Quentin Tarantino, and starred John Travolta, Samuel Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, and those are just the more famous names. It is often hailed as one of the most iconic and influential of Tarantino’s films, with many “quote-able” scenes from the movie finding their way into popular culture. Oh, here are the originals, by the way: you may need them for reference.
What I find more intriguing, about this video is the label on it that says it is “Pulp Fiction Shakespeare”, implying that the stage play in Shakespearian style. This label interests me the most about this video recording, reminiscent of the earlier attempts to bring stage-Shakespeare into the film industry, because it begs the question: how is it in the Shakespearian style? What is it that makes this thing “Shakespeare”? From what we’ve seen and learned throughout the course, Shakespeare is much more than actually just speaking in old English. As the oft-misquoted phrase from Hamlet goes, “… (though) this be madness, yet there is method in’t”. Shakespeare’s works range from tragedies to comedies and everything between, exploring love and life through dialogue and soliloquy alike.
Yet at the same time, there is something unique about Shakespearian works, enough so that the name “Shakespeare” alone becomes recognized as a symbol, representative of an idea. How did this recognition come about, though, when Shakespeare never originally intended his plays to be nothing more than entertainment? There are multiple theories on this, of course, some of the more prominent ones pointing at the resurgence of interest in the arts during the Romantic periods. But what is undeniable is the fact that whoever “resurrected” Shakespeare after he died did a really good job, turning him into much more than what the man himself could have hoped to achieve from entertaining nobles and groundlings alike at an open theatre.
Arguably, this is one of the points that the class of Transmedial Shakespeare would like to ask people who have experienced Shakespeare to think about. Lots of people know who Shakespeare is, practically everyone has an idea of what he’s done. But when you apply the label of Shakespeare to anything, you should try to understand what’s the real idea behind the Shakespeare. Because from what I can hear, and what I’ve seen from the videos, that’s not Pulp Fiction a la Shakespeare. That’s Pulp Fiction in Old English.
Don’t get me wrong, though: I still love the idea, and I would probably die of joy if I ever got to see it live onstage.