Media Shakespeare: Appropriation Reconsidered

Convenors: Maurizio Calbi (University of Salerno, Italy) and Douglas M. Lanier (University of New Hampshire, US)

This seminar will address Shakespeare à la dérive, those myriad adaptations, spinoffs, derivations and fragmentary allusions in contemporary media that have in some sense drifted free from anchorage in the master discourse of Shakespeare's texts. The academy has become accustomed to conceiving of these derivations in terms of appropriation, a process by which the accrued authority of Shakespeare's master text is seized upon and redirected to new political or cultural ends. The concept of appropriation has been extraordinarily productive, both in terms of underwriting readings of specific Shakespeare adaptations and in terms of legitimizing an emergent sub-discipline. However, the expansion of Shakespeare's presence in mass media in recent years (including the proliferation of non-Anglophone Shakespeares on film and TV, and "YouTube" and "Twitter" Shakespeares) suggests that it is timely to ask whether appropriation remains an adequate model for analyzing Shakespearean material in modern media and in a post-modern context. What are the limits of the appropriative model for understanding Shakespeare's circulation and transformation in an age of digital media and multimodal content? Does appropriation, for example, offer a binaristic and simplified understanding of the politics of mediatized Shakespeare? How far does appropriation rely on a ‘humanist’ notion of an un-mediated subject doing the appropriating? Is appropriation a useful model for understanding the spectatorial or participatory politics of Internet Shakespeare? To what extent does contemporary media Shakespeare engage Shakespearean textuality at all? What other theoretical frameworks for media adaptation of Shakespeare might be equally or even more illuminating (for example, mimetics, intermediality, affective re-mediation, spectro-textuality, etc.)? How does appropriation as a model address the many transformations, recuperations and erosions of the cultural authority of Shakespeare's text in post-modern media? What tensions, affiliations, or resonances exist between "local" and global modalities of Shakespearean appropriation? What distinctive challenges or advantages does appropriation present as a model for media versions of Shakespeare within a European context? How to address the distribution, circulation, marketing and reception of mediatized Shakespeare within a specifically European context? How does media adaptation of Shakespeare accord with or differ from the media adaptation of comparable cultural figures in European culture, and how does that comparison illuminate appropriation as a conceptual model? For this seminar we invite papers that explore Shakespeare's transformations in modern media as a means to reconsider the appropriateness of appropriation as a analytic model. We welcome papers on particular adaptations in modern media, especially those which engage recent Shakespearean media materials, but we also invite more wide-ranging discussions of the cultural, political and ethical implications of appropriation as a model for Shakespearean media adaptation in Europe.


“The Polish YouTube and Shakespeare – the classification of findings and conclusions”
Katarzyna Burzyńska and Anna Wołosz
School of English at Adam Mickiewicz University
Poznań, Poland

Since Shakespeare has always been associated with the visual and performativity it seems only natural that, with the development of the Internet media, Shakespeare’s works have also found their way to such new communication channels as YouTube. YouTube slowly begins to occupy one of the central places among the new media, as a result Shakespeare scholars cannot and do not ignore it anymore. Therefore, the question to be asked is: Can one draw a general picture of Shakespeare’s presence in this new medium or is “Shakespeare on YouTube” just an incomprehensible myriad of scraps whose authors only mindlessly appropriate the name of Shakespeare? This paper aims at a systematic analysis and classification of Polish YouTube contents concerning Shakespeare. The extent to which YouTube videos engage with Shakespearean text as well as the form in which Shakespearean material is transmitted will be brought into focus. The videos, from amateur and professional performances, biographical material to sung or recited sonnets, will be categorized using Jakobson’s communication model. YouTube emerges as a new communication medium; consequently, it appears reasonable to have recourse to his language functions model. The fundamental question of the purpose and function of Shakespeare within YouTube users’ network will also be addressed. 


“Inés París’ Miguel y William: Shakespeare’s Spanish shipwreck”
Noemí Vera
University of Murcia, Spain

In 2007, Spanish film director Inés París presents Miguel y William, an ambitious project which brings together two of the most universal literary figures: Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare. Taking a young woman (the dark lady of the Sonnets?) as a joining point between them, París locates the two writers in late sixteenth-century Castile (coinciding with the Bard’s “lost years” 1586-92), where they share their love for this shrewd, beautiful lady, and their passion for literature. Curiously enough (especially if we bear in mind the not-so-distant big hit Shakespeare in love, a film which Miguel y William unavoidably reminds us about), however, the film turns out to be a disappointment, judging for most of the opinions by the critics and the little impact on the audience. My main aim in this paper is to analyse the various causes why this film does not manage to work, paying special attention to the dubious psychological characterization of the young Shakespeare and the fact that París often forgets her main objective when creating this comedy (in her own words, to write “about Miguel and William, two human beings with their weaknesses, fears, obsessions and insecurities but, nonetheless, with the determination to write as good as possible”) and, instead, appropriates the authors’ (fictional) biographies to send a feminist message embodied by Leonor de Vibero, the young lady whom they both love.


“Derezzing The Tempest in Tron: Legacy”
Laura Campillo Arnaiz
Universidad de Murcia, Spain

In the universe of Disney’s sci-fi movies Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010), derezz (short for deresolution) is a term used to describe someone or something disappearing or dissolving, essentially resulting in deletion. This paper will analyse the transformations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy, whose main plot and characters draw substantially from the Bard’s play. In the movie, Kevin Flynn, a virtual world designer, is in exile in the Grid, the computer generated cosmos he created. Like Prospero, Flynn is master and victim of his own craft, and must contend with two of his creations: Tron, a pure and noble program much akin to Ariel and CLU, an evil clone of Flynn who, like Antonio and Caliban, seeks and ultimately usurps Flynn’s dominion over the Grid, corrupting Tron into the brutal Rinzler and forcing Flynn to flee to the isolated outlands of his digital world. Flynn is accompanied in his double exile by Quorra, a female program he has in part created and who acts as his confidante apprentice. Like Miranda, Quorra is naïve and innocent, and will develop an emotional attraction to Flynn’s son, Sam, the movie’s Ferdinand who is shipwrecked into the Grid by accident.

The paper will address the paradoxical diminution of Shakespeare’s cultural influence in a movie where the leading European authors quoted are Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Nietszche and Jules Verne, and whose most discernable sources are drawn from popular culture hits such as Tron (1982), Star Wars (1977) or The Matrix (1999). Special emphasis will be paid to the way Shakespeare functions as a vehicle to lend cultural authority to the movie’s plot, the appropriation in turn disseminating a particular interpretation of The Tempest which reconfigures the play in a seemingly apolitical framework ready to be marketed in a global economy. The validity and limitations of the appropriation model will be discussed throughout this study, which will conclude reflecting on possible suggestions for future analysis.


“‘But release me from my bands’: Performance Text of Julie Taymor’s Tempest (2010) and the Poetics of Cinematic Appropriation”
Aneta Mancewicz
Kazimierz Wielki University, Bydgoszcz, Poland

Julie Taymor’s Tempest (2010) has stirred enthusiasm among scholars and film critics, encouraging re-investigation of Shakespeare’s play and its performance tradition. Critical responses to the movie, however, have soon drifted to the reefs of appropriation discourse, with commentators focusing on Shakespeare’s authority and fidelity to the book – a common practice in criticism of Shakespeare, according to William B. Worthen and Douglas M. Lanier. While reviewers have embarked on the quest for authentic Shakespeare, little attention has been paid to establishing what notion of textuality could be usefully applied to examining Taymor’s adaptation as well as cinematic appropriations of Shakespeare’s plays in general. Simultaneously, discussions of Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Prospera and the implications of the gender shift have drowned other issues raised in the movie, most notably the intricacies of racial relations in the conflict between Prospera and Caliban (Djimon Hounsou). A closer attention to their power struggle not only complicates the problem of authority in Taymor’s Tempest, but also moves this adaptation into the direction of post-colonial reception of the play, allowing us to hear an echo of Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête (1969) in the final confrontation between the master and the slave.

Analyzing Taymor’s Tempest according to Marco de Marinis’s theory of performance text, that is an artifact woven of multiple texts and signs, I want to propose an interpretation of the movie as an interplay of sources and materials: Taymor’s earlier stage and film work, Derek Jarman’s (1979) and Peter Greenaway’s (1991) cinematic adaptations, feminist and post-colonial interpretations, as well as diverse production materials (Internet sources, a book, a music CD, etc.). The aim of this analysis is not only to assess the creative vision of Taymor, but, more importantly, to suggest manifold ways, in which a cinematic appropriation of Shakespeare may function in a media-dominated age.


“‘Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth’: Shakespeare’s authority in José Carlos Somoza’s El cebo (The bait)”
Ángel-Luis Pujante
University of Murcia, Spain

Shakespeare’s presence in popular culture has reached novels and films of mystery and detection in various ways, including Shakespeare as author, as “auctor”, as Bartlett and as an ethics of etiquette (Susan Baker). It has even gone beyond English-speaking culture. In Spain, writer José Carlos Somoza, who used Shakespeare as a character in his play Miguel Will and in his short story “Hamlet”, uses him as prime authority in his latest novel, El cebo (The bait), published in 2010. In this novel the police employ an ingenious method to trap murderers by means of “baits”, a group of elite policewomen whose training is based on the theory of the “psynome”, a mathematical code like the genome intended to measure and formulate the expression of desire. The many varieties of desire have been grouped under some sixty “philias”, of which each person has one. The “baits” are trained to identify “philias” by enacting a corresponding “mask”, a kind of theatrical illusion reproducing the pleasure or rejection that each person experiences in every situation in life, which enables the “bait” to control and catch murderers. Every stage of the action draws heavily on Shakespeare’s works and characters, as all of them present a particular “philia” which can be analysed and used as model to trap murderers: Antony and Cleopatra belong to the “philia of Aura”, The Merchant of Venice to the “philia of Aspect”, etc. In turn, Shakespeare’s plays can also prompt particular masks: Hamlet that of “Spectacle”, Titus Andronicus that of “Innocence”, etc.

            This papers sets out to present and analyse the extent and nature of “appropriation” of Shakespeare in this novel, and so discuss its real relevance in what is basically a thriller.


Spaghetti Shakespeare: Referencing the Plays in Italian Westerns”
Mariangela Tempera
University of Ferrara, Italy

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, hundreds of Westerns were produced in Italy. Despised by the critics but hugely popular with audiences both locally and worldwide, these “films about films” debunk the American representation of the West on screen. They occasionally introduce Shakespearean allusions that are best understood in the light of other films. Thus, for example, the character of the intoxicated, Shakespeare-quoting judge in Thompson 1880 (dir. Guido Zurli, 1966) is clearly modeled on the aging actor in My Darling Clementine (dir. John Ford, 1946). Some directors engaged in more ambitious attempts at adapting entire plays. Their attempts did not meet with the approval of the producers who, far from appreciating the added cultural value of references to world famous classics, feared their dampening effect on their target audience and erased every trace of the Bard from the titles and the publicity materials. Thus, Gianni Puccini’s loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1968) was renamed Dove si spara di più, and Shakespeare was not credited for the fragments of dialogue lifted from his play; Enzo Castellari’s Johnny Hamlet (1968) was released in Italy as Quella sporca storia del West.

            With examples from several Italian Westerns, the paper will examine the presence of Shakespeare’s plays in a genre that is highly critical of the playwright’s cultural authority and yet cannot resist (mis)using his texts.  


Title tbc (Sonnets and YouTube)
Stephen O’neill
School of English, Media and Theatre Studies
National University of Ireland Maynooth, Ireland

There has been considerable critical interest in the remediation of Shakespeare’s works and the implications of new technologies such as You Tube and Twitter for conceptions of Shakespeare’s textual authority and indeed the language of the works themselves. This paper proposed to consider the remediation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets on You Tube, with particular focus on those uploads that engage questions of textuality and spectro-textuality. Uploads such as Sonnet 12 ( and the animated typography of Sonnet 30 ( construct a viewing reader and alert that viewer to the textuality of Shakespeare’s poems and to their word play. In this sense, do they have an interesting pedagogical potential? What is the impact of You Tube uploads that visualise rather than verbalise Shakespeare's language? The remediation of the Sonnets on You Tube also raises questions about gender categories and sexual dynamics as iterated in Shakespeare’s text. Some uploads playfully engage with that subtext, as in the upload “Kirk/ Spock: The Marriage of True Minds”, which sets lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet to clips from Star Trek to insinuate some kind of ‘bro-romance’ between Spock and his Captain. But in others uploads of the sonnets to the young man, especially in the popular Sonnet 18 and the video featuring English actor Matthew MacFayden (, there is a displacement of the text's homosocial and/or homosexual subtext. What form of appropriation of Shakespeare is at work here? Indeed, is ‘appropriation’ a useful formulation for interpreting the activities of You Tube users and viewers? What "images" and "after-images" of identity (Lisa Nakamura, Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity and Identity on the Internet [Routledge, 2001]) are being iterated or constructed or valorised through Shakespeare's poems? And, with attention to the specifics of You Tube as a medium, what role might the re-mediation of the Sonnets on this platform play in (re)producing a sense of the medium specificities of Shakespeare’s work? 


“Media Shakespeare: from Appropriation to Networking”
Francesca Maria Gorini
University of Milan, Italy

The process of appropriating the Shakespearean canon and adapting it for other media (especially the cinema and TV) has been very prolific but the development of the Internet in recent years has changed the way the Bard’s texts circulate and are acknowledged within contemporary society. In my paper I will reflect on the more and more evident presence of Shakespeare on the Internet and demonstrate how the notion of appropriation is no more appropriate when addressing the issue of Shakespeare on the net. A YouTube video on Romeo and Juliet will provide a helpful example. It consists of a collage of an image from a production of Romeo and Juliet by the Renaissance Theatre Company (starring Kenneth Branagh) and a picture of Juliet’s balcony in Verona. Shakespeare’s lines from the balcony scene, appearing on screen, are performed in voice-over. The original text undergoes a recycling here: it is fragmented and then re-assembled to form a collage where different media coexist, namely the verbal and the visual ones. However, what is crucial about Shakespeare in modern media (YouTube but also Facebook and Twitter) is that any piece of information relating to the Bard is shared instantaneously by billions of people who will exchange ideas and opinions about it. What I suggest, and will comment in the paper, is that there has been a shift from the traditional appropriation of Shakespeare’s plays (by a filmmaker for example) towards the formation of a real (social?) network connecting a huge number of people, which represents a new way of approaching and adapting the Bard’s texts.


“The Bard in Cartoons: Appropriating Shakespeare in 1916”
Clara Calvo
University of Murcia, Spain

The Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death (1916) offered multiple opportunities for commemoration in different media. The official ‘Shakespeare Week’ in London, the homage of scholars and actors in speeches and plays, and the world-wide scope of the celebrations were often punctuated by the less reverential attention paid to Shakespeare in the popular press. Instead of celebrating the universal genius and the Bard of the English language unproblematically, cartoons in newspapers and weeklies questioned Shakespeare’s popularity and cultural presence. In this paper, I will examine cartoons published on both sides of the Atlantic to show how in the midst of the Great War, and in the so-called ‘Year of the Battles’, Shakespeare was seen to be under fire from a variety of cultural practices. Music-hall, the craving for light comedy, the fame of individual actors and actresses, the Bacon controversy, the relation between drama authors and theatre managers, and the technical advantages of the cinematograph over the limitation of the stage are all called upon to represent the diminished stature of Shakespeare. The 1916 Tercentenary provided thus an opportunity for cartoons to construe Shakespeare as a site of memory but also as a site of conflict. In the course of questioning Shakespeare’s cultural value, cartoons also problematize the notion of authorship and present new technologies – and the moving image in particular – as a threat to the survival of drama. The construction of Shakespeare and his plays as a site of conflict during the 1916 Tercentenary reveals not only the complexity of the mechanisms that infuse the cultures of commemoration but also the contradictory impulses behind commemorative practices – such as, for instance, a desire to appropriate the past and an urge to see the present and the future as distinct from the same past that is being simultaneously commemorated and rejected.