The cultural significance of Shakespeare on screen in the Twenty-First Century

Broadribb, Benjamin (2023). The cultural significance of Shakespeare on screen in the Twenty-First Century. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The thesis explores twenty-first-century adaptations and appropriations of Shakespeare on screen, spanning cinema, television and online productions. It considers how a range of screen productions, spanning different mediums, aesthetics, languages and intended audiences, create cultural artefacts of the times in which they were made.

The opening three chapters explore representations of British national identity, and how adaptations of different Shakespeare plays have reflected, interrogated and unpicked ‘Britishness’ in the opening decades of the 2000s. These chapters consider in turn: the BBC series The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (dir. Cooke, 2016) and its existence within the cultural moment of Britain’s vote to leave the EU; the different approaches to adapting Coriolanus in Ralph Fiennes’s 2011 Hollywood-style action film and Ben Wheatley’s disorienting anti-Hollywood deconstruction of the play in Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018), set in post-Brexit Britain; and the ways in which British culture, heritage and nostalgia are woven into adaptations of Romeo and Juliet in Kelly Asbury’s 2011 computer-animated film Gnomeo & Juliet and Carlo Carlei’s 2013 film, scripted by Julian Fellowes.

The closing three chapters analyse screen adaptations through the lens of metamodernism, a structure of feeling proposed as the twenty-first-century successor to late twentieth-century postmodernism, which oscillates between sensibilities characterised by postmodern irony and detachment and a return to sincerity and affective connection. These chapters consider in turn: adaptations of King Lear in The King is Alive (dir. Levring, 2000) and Lear’s Shadow (dir. Elerding, 2018), and how they reclaim the play from its position of bleakness and nihilism during the closing decades of the twentieth century; the intersections of documentary authenticity and cinematic artifice in two non-Anglophone films, Makibefo (dir. Abela, 2000) and Caesar Must Die (dirs. Taviani and Taviani, 2012), which adapt Macbeth and Julius Caesar respectively; and the ways in which A Midsummer Night’s Dream was adapted in four different online productions created in 2020 under lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which blend postmodern pop culture referentiality with affective sincerity.

Throughout all six chapters, the thesis analyses the ways in which screen adaptations of Shakespeare – within the related but distinct media of film, television and digital theatre – have responded to the cultural and historical moment surrounding their production. It also explores what Shakespeare is doing within these mediums, and the ways in which the adaptive potential and cultural capital of Shakespeare on screen has developed from its position at the end of the twentieth century.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, The Shakespeare Institute
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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