Date of Award

5-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Robert E. Stillman

Committee Members

Charles J. Maland, Heather A. Hirschfeld, H. Phillip Hamlin

Abstract

From Sam Taylor’s 1929 Taming of the Shrew to Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 Love’s Labour’s Lost, nine comedies have been filmed and released for the mainstream film market. Over the course of the twentieth century a filmic cycle developed. By the late 1990s, the films of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies included cinematic allusions to films produced and distributed in the 1930s. This cycle indicates an awareness of and appreciation for the earlier films. Such awareness proves that the contemporary films’ meaning and entertainment value are derived in part from the consciousness of belonging to a larger tradition of Shakespeare comedy on film. Recognizing the intertextuality of Shakespeare’s comedies on film challenges the notion that Shakespeare’s comedies do not merit the same critical attention as their tragic counterparts. The cinematic conversation between directors—as played out on screen—illustrates the relevance and cultural significance of Shakespeare’s comedy.

This dissertation explores these comedic adaptations chronologically and offers analysis of the films as they enter the cinematic Shakespeare tradition. Each decade in which the comedies were produced reveals a unique view or understanding of the role of comedy in Shakespeare. For 1930s audiences, the three comedies offer innovative performances by big-name stars as some of them transitioned from silent films to talkies while others tried to flex their acting muscles. 1960s movie audiences saw Shakespeare comedy that was less about the theatrical tradition and more about cinematic realism and social relevance. Kenneth Branagh would move to capitalize on this approach and take populism to the next level with his two comedies in the 1990s. Branagh’s contributions to the comedy tradition proved to be both monumental and overconfident; however, the impact Branagh himself had on the field of Shakespeare on film is undeniable. His influence would inspire other directors (including Trevor Nunn and Michael Hoffman) who pay homage to Branagh stylistically and thematically. Recognizing the history of Shakespeare’s comedies on film allows us the opportunity to revisit and reexamine the comedies’ place on the Shakespeare-on-film canon by calling attention to what these films attempt to accomplish through cultural, social or cinematic means.

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