Recognizing Shakespeare in Twenty-First-Century Film and Television
How the study of Shakespeare’s legacy, specifically in film and television, can radically challenge what we consider to be authentically Shakespearean
In the field of adaptation studies today, the idea of reading an adapted text as “faithful” or “unfaithful” to its original source strikes many scholars as too simplistic, too conservative, and too moralizing. In Uncanny Fidelity: Recognizing Shakespeare in Twenty-First Century Film and Television, James Newlin challenges these critical orthodoxies. Instead, recognizing how a film or television series closely recalls Shakespeare’s drama encourages an interrogation of what we consider to be “Shakespeare” in the first place.
Drawing upon Sigmund Freud’s model of the uncanny—the sudden sensation of peculiar, discomforting familiarity—this book focuses on films and television series that were not marketed as adaptations of Shakespeare. Yet these works unexpectedly invoke lost, even troubling aspects of Shakespeare’s original playtexts, their performance history, or their reception. Broadening the scope of fidelity readings beyond familiar concerns like plot and language, Newlin demonstrates how the study of Shakespeare’s afterlife can clarify both the historical context of his drama and its relevance for the current political moment. Engaging contemporary debates in literary and psychoanalytic theory, this book features provocative close readings of The Tempest, Othello, and The Winter’s Tale alongside recent films and television series, from art-house movies such as The Master and Manchester by the Sea to the cult favorites Brigsby Bear and Vice Principals. These works conjure widely overlooked qualities of Shakespeare’s drama by recalling the casting practices or the generic contexts of the early modern stage or by making a meaningful intervention in the plays’ critical reception. Closely examining these surprisingly faithful adaptations of Shakespeare’s drama helps us to articulate the original experience of the early modern stage and better consider its resonance in the present.
This book will benefit students and scholars of Shakespeare on film and psychoanalytic theory. Yet Uncanny Fidelity will also be of interest to scholars of performance history, source studies, and early modern discourses of race and gender—as well as anyone interested in the unexpected connections between canonical literature and contemporary culture. By examining adaptation as an instance of uncanny return, Newlin demonstrates how the study of Shakespeare’s afterlife can radically challenge what we consider to be authentically Shakespearean.
“Uncanny Fidelity makes a rich and creative contribution not only to the field of adaptation studies but also to Shakespeare criticism in general, as it deploys its scholarly resources with aplomb and, as befits the book, originality. One of its refreshing features, especially for a work of modern popular culture, is a continual engagement with the materials of the Renaissance—the histories, the social and theatrical conflicts that enlivened and sometimes disturbed the era, and the criticism about the literature of the time—which gives us the impression that, even when reading about films from only five years ago, we are never far from the early modern period.”
—Eric S. Mallin author of Reading Shakespeare in the Movies: Non-Adaptations and Their Meaning and Godless Shakespeare
“'Tell all the truth but tell it slant.' This slantwise tour of uncanny Shakespearean repetitions helps us reevaluate what we long since thought was familiar. From a 'wild' reading of The Master to a Badiou-inflected examination of Deadwood, Newlin ponders how we can 'be awake to the possibility of this sort of faithful resuscitation of Shakespeare.'”
—Scott Newstok, author of How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education
"James Newlin sees our contemporary culture as an uncanny adaptation of Shakespeare’s own documentation of the world. The Bard’s appearances and reappearances— rather like the profanity in the HBO series Deadwood— bring to audiences jolts of recognition and reversal of what Shakespeare already knew. We would be wrong to resist Newlin’s claims: for even Jane Austen presciently proclaims: 'Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. ...[O]ne is intimate with him by instinct.' Bearing such intimacy by instinct in mind, Newlin takes up TV and movie gems from Brigsby Bear to Manchester by the Sea, from Vice Principals to The Master, to uncover, and to offer, a Shakespeare for our times who uncannily already told the story of the moment."
—Vera J. Camden, co-editor of American Imago and American editor for the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics.