The noun ‘Shakespeare’ has a variety of meanings: it can denote an historical figure, a body of literary texts, a kind of narrative, a style of writing, an historical moment, a literary character and so on. When writers use Shakespeare (in any of those senses), they are doing something that takes a wide variety of forms. They may employ the historical figure in a scholarly work (as in Samuel Schoenbaum's Shakespeare's Lives), as an historical figure about whom the writer sometimes speculates (as in Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World), or as a fictional character (as in the film Shakespeare in Love). Writers may borrow a phrase in a citation to be profound or, to avoid stuffiness, they may seek a more playful allusion. Writers may employ a setting that is consciously Shakespearian: seventeenth-century London, fifteenth-century Verona, first-century Rome or an atemporal island. Newspaper accounts of suicides, murders and political downfalls can describe these events as Shakespearian. Shakespearian characters people non-Shakespearian plots, while Shakespearian plots undergird non-Shakespearian narratives, whether in The Sandman graphic novels or Kurosawa's films. In writing about the way that films use Shakespeare – filmed works and nothing more, no literature, painting, ballet, opera, radio, nor advertisements – Kenneth Rothwell and Annabelle Meltzer developed an elaborate taxonomy that shows the complexity of the whole enterprise. They distinguish among adaptations, modernizations, abridgements, musical and dance versions, travesties, excerpts and documentaries, as well as between motion-pictures and videos. In Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture, Douglas Lanier is careful to include a separate chapter on allusion and citation, as opposed either to homage, adaptation and parody, or to works that invoke the biography and mythology of Shakespeare. Examples proliferate, but the phenomenon itself is undisputed: many works use something that can be labelled as ‘Shakespeare’. As Douglas Lanier has remarked after cataloguing all the ways that scholars study Shakespeare adaptations, the field ‘has emerged as one of the most robust areas of Shakespearean criticism’. Robert Shaughnessy would agree:
In recent years, the study of the past and present relationships between Shakespeare and popular culture has been transformed: from an occasional, ephemeral, and anecdotal field of research, which, if it registered at all, was generally considered peripheral to the core concerns of scholarship and pedagogy, to one which is making an increasingly significant contribution to our understanding of how Shakespeare's works came into being, and of how and why they continue to exercise the imaginations of readers, theatergoers, viewers, and scholars worldwide.