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Shakespeare in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Cultural Discourse and the Film of Tree's ‘Henry VIII’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 October 2003


In early twentieth-century England the general recognition among dramatists and theatre practitioners that the theatre had reached a crisis or turning point – that as an institution it no longer answered the social and moral requirements of a modern industrialized society – resulted in a profusion of books and articles which addressed alternative modes of theatrical production or proposed institutional restructuring. Simultaneously with these discussions of the social utility of the theatre as an institution, a broad debate about theatrical aesthetics was continuing under the influence of new European and avant-garde movements such as symbolism and expressionism. Examining the shift from the actor-manager system in conjunction with these campaigns, Cary DiPietro here considers the recurrence of Shakespeare in the theatrical tracts of the period, variously regarded as a cultural authority at the intersection of issues of class, new modes of mechanical reproduction, aesthetic value, and old versus new modes of theatrical production. He sees the making – and the wilful destruction – of the film of Beerbohm Tree's Henry VIII as paradigmatic of the ways in which the period tried to distinguish popular, mass forms from what was ‘authentically’ artistic. Cary DiPietro currently lectures at Kyoto University, Japan.

Research Article
© 2003 Cambridge University Press

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