I’m sure you’ve all seen the posters. They’re dramatic. Striking. Ralph Fiennes with blood streaming down his face, a faded Vanessa Redgrave behind him, looking concerned. What about? Who knows?! Big, bold font: Ralph Fiennes. Gerard Butler. Coriolanus. Written by William Shakespeare. Oh wait…
For those of you who haven’t seen the poster; firstly, where have you been? Secondly, there is no reference to Shakespeare whatsoever. Not that you can see clearly, anyway.
But why not? Surely Shakespeare is a bigger name than Ralph Fiennes or Gerard Butler, unless I’m biased as an English Literature student. Why does this film not proclaim its origin with pride?
And it’s not just Coriolanus. 10 Things I Hate About You: a big poster of Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. No mention of the play it’s based on (The Taming of the Shrew) or its writer. A stark contrast with theatres such as the Globe and Stratford’s RSC; whole theatres erected in the name of the Bard that proudly proclaim the writer of their productions.
Is it possible that we have dismissed Shakespeare’s name as something that’s only saleable if it’s at the theatre, and become convinced that the name Shakespeare doesn’t sell seats at the cinema as it would for a theatre production?
It’s not as though Shakespearean adaptations are going out of fashion. Although the Shakespeare adaptation craze of the 1990s may have passed, chick-flicks Romeo + Juliet and 10 Things I Hate About You are still watched and re-watched, and are even shown in schools as ‘accessible’ Shakespeare.
David Tennant’s Hamlet was televised by the BBC in Christmas 2009. Even the horrendous Gnomeo and Juliet was released last year (which hopefully nobody saw), which I assume was somewhat based on the Shakespeare original (if loosely).
I can understand why some might see Shakespeare as off-putting or outdated. The language can be challenging for some. But the themes he approaches are perennial and can be applied everywhere, and so many adaptations these days remove the language barrier that some see as impenetrable.
Anti-semitism, sexuality, love, feminism, killing your enemy’s sons and feeding them to you in a pie… all of these themes are highly relevant for society today (apart from the latter, of course). Arguments concerning such eternal cultural issues don’t have to be written into a play by a Hollywood script writer.
At the end of the day, Shakespeare was meant to be acted. Shakespeare comes alive when you see it rather than read it, no matter the medium, and I don’t see why Hollywood has become so afraid of using the name of the Bard in film adaptation publicity. Why do we not celebrate a man acclaimed as one of the best writers of all time in the cinema as well as the theatre?
I may just be an out-of-touch English student, brainwashed into believing in the brilliance of the Bard, when nobody else really cares at all. But I fully believe in the celebration of the author.
I don’t think that we should assume that people automatically know it’s a Shakespearean play, especially when most of us are pigeonholed into studying either Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet. The Time Traveler’s Wife boasts the tagline ‘From the acclaimed bestseller’, and I’m sure most people knew that the film was based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. It certainly didn’t harm sales, since it made over $101,000,000.
Maybe one day Shakespeare will be on a film poster, in big, bold font. Maybe Shakespeare will be considered cool again, and not something most of us are dragged through kicking and screaming at GCSE level. Maybe.