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Kenneth Branagh acted in and directed more Shakespeare plays than any other filmmaker before him; yet he also defied what was expected from a Shakespearean actor-director. First, he used the codes of Hollywood cinema to make the plays entertaining and available to a younger, more popular audience. Second, he not only adapted Shakespeare but also ventured into directing Hollywood blockbusters, as well as more intimate projects on stage and screen, injecting Shakespearean echoes into a new range of productions. Through his taste for popular, mainstream movies, his bold self-made trajectory that carried him repeatedly in and out of the ‘Establishment’, Branagh has contributed to redefining relations between Shakespeare and Hollywood, between the art house and the multiplex, and between theatre and cinema. Through his ceaselessly renewed ‘vaulting ambition’ of bringing Shakespeare to the people, Branagh has constructed over the years the ideologically complex persona of a working-class Shakespearean entrepreneur.
Concentrating on adaptations of As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, this chapter argues that Shakespeare’s comedies on screen constitute a significant and cross-fertilizing body of work. Scriptwriters have pursued imaginative routes through the syntax of the comedies, and there has been considerable experiment in terms of updating Shakespeare’s language. Comedy is the genre where constructions of gender/sexuality are often expressed with filmmakers recognizing in Shakespeare’s comedies opportunities to explore agency, voice and embodiment. The comedies on screen anticipate many of the themes energizing recent criticism, and in this there is a pronounced self-consciousness. Harking back to earlier experiments, the most recent Shakespearean comedies showcase their own artifice along with strategies of revision dependent on a dense intertextuality.
A tenet of the burgeoning history of emotions is that emotions are cultural and social practices that change over time. Emotional understandings, vocabularies and representations are neither universal nor constant, but historically contingent and in a continuing process of adaptation. In this chapter we first examine the dramatist’s tool-kit that Shakespeare found to hand in his own theatrical profession and contemporary culture for constructing dramatic ‘personations’ apparently endowed with passions, affections and feelings. We then turn, necessarily more briefly, to how understanding of links between characters and emotions changed through the eighteenth century and into the more psychologically inclined twentieth and beyond. The main reference point is As You Like It, whose very title invites an affective audience response. This play abounds with characters speaking languages of love, and also exhibits metatheatrical references illuminating process of composition. We can observe at close range his strategies of creating ‘feigned’ dramatic personages who, though ‘artificial’, convey to audiences emotional consciousness.
Chapter Six looks at three plays by William Shakespeare which explores the merry world broadside ballad as a mode of consumption, probing the nature of audience complicity that it invites. It begins with The Winter’s Tale (c. 1610), which interrogates the status of old tales and of happy endings, and the idea – explicitly articulated in Cymbeline (c. 1610–11) – that to be ‘put into rhyme’ is to suffer aesthetic and emotional impoverishment. It then contrasts As You Like It (c. 1598–99) with King Lear (c. 1605–06) as rival disguised-king stories, in which the failure of ballad tropes to reflect reality is played first as farce and then as tragedy.