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Shakespeare and British World War Two Film
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Book description

During World War Two, many British writers and thinkers turned to Shakespeare in order to articulate the values for which their nation was fighting. Yet the cinema presented moviegoers with a more multifaceted Shakespeare, one who signalled division as well as unity. Shakespeare and British World War Two Film models a synchronic approach to adaptation that, by situating the Shakespeare movie within histories of film and society, avoids the familiar impasse in which the playwright's works are the beginning, middle and end of critical study. Through close analysis of works by Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Humphrey Jennings, and the partners Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, among others, this study demonstrates how Shakespeare served as a powerful imaginative resource for filmmakers seeking to think through some of the most pressing issues and problems that beset wartime British society.


‘Garrett Sullivan's brilliant study of Shakespeare in British film during the Second World War defines a new and exhilarating approach to examining the wide range of ways in which a particular social and cultural history and geography of Shakespeare in films – from adaptations to citations to offshoots – can be investigated. This is superb and innovative scholarship that has sent me rushing back to films I knew well and rushing off to watch others I had never even heard of.'

Peter Holland - University of Notre Dame

‘Illuminating the tensions between Shakespeare as a unifying force and as a register of social and cultural difference, Shakespeare and British World War Two Film is an interpretive tour de force. Attentive to industrial particularities, and sophisticatedly contextualized, this study combines the concept of the ‘wartime Shakespeare topos’ and the trope of the ‘ideologeme’ to understand Shakespeare’s complex status in a series of film appropriations from the 1940s. In so doing, it tells a compelling story about the uses of cultural icons in conflict settings, and the extent to which Shakespeare functions as an emblem of national unity.’

Mark Thornton Burnett - Queen’s University Belfast

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