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9 - Renaissance tragedy on film: defying mainstream Shakespeare

from Part 1 - Themes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2010

Emma Smith
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr
Affiliation:
Pennsylvania State University
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Summary

Reviewing Alex Cox's Revengers Tragedy (2002), Peter Bradshaw describes the film as:

a Jacobean horror comic, gashed and daubed with the kind of crudity and uncompromising bad taste that, if nothing else, is thoroughly in keeping with the original. I had been fearing a terrible mess of Jarman-ism and Greenaway-ism, and to be honest there's a touch of both, but it's kept under control . . . The film itself is an honourable experiment, refreshingly without the piety of Shakespeare adaptations.

Bradshaw's review puts into focus several key issues arising from the corpus of films of non-Shakespearean Renaissance tragedies that have emerged under the influence of counter-cinematic directors like Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway to challenge the aesthetics and values embodied by mainstream Shakespeare films. For Bradshaw, Cox's Revengers is representative of all 'Jacobean horror comic[s]' and of the ideologically inflected modes of representation and politicised schools of thought (the '-isms') that threaten neutral Shakespeare with their 'terriblemess' which must be 'kept under control'. Shakespeare, by implication, is neither 'Jacobean' (regardless of dates), nor the author of horror comics of 'uncompromising bad taste' (regardless of Titus Andronicus). Shakespeare is the ultimate point of reference against which not-Shakespeare can be judged and found to have failed.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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