Intersections of stage, text and film: new perspectives on Shakespeare and European theatrical cultures

Panelists: Dr Victoria Bladen (University of Queensland, Australia), Assoc Prof Maddalena Pennacchia (Roma Tre University, Italy), Prof Melissa Croteau (California Baptist University, USA)


This panel explores new perspectives on the interface between stage, text and film in three different European stage productions that were screened and subsequently released on DVD. When a stage production is filmed, an ephemeral performative text is transposed to a filmic text that functions as a palimpsest with layers of playtext, stage and film in dialogue. New dimensions of the playtext and stage production emerge, and new viewing experiences are opened up through the medium of film, emphasising the intermedial and transcultural, and transforming European productions into potentially global experiences. Moreover the recording or event screening of particular stage productions may have implications in terms of the shaping of European cultural identities and historical events.

Victoria Bladen examines the 2009 Globe production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, filmed for an international series of cinema broadcasts and subsequently released on DVD, focussing particularly on how the production emphasised dimensions of European pastoral in the play. The traditional idea of nature as a text to be read for knowledge was emphasised visually in the mise-en-scène, with the use of material backdrops printed like pages onto which stylised trees were superimposed, and the feature of a stylised knot garden, which set up a visual opposition of garden and forest, evoking ideas of cultivation and wilderness. The transposition of the stage production into filmic text enabled a new appreciation of these aspects of the mise-en-scène and facilitated new insights on Shakespeare’s play.

Maddalena Pennacchia also explores the implications of the hybrid form of the filmed stage production, which mixes cinematic and theatrical techniques of performing and staging a play. She examines the National Theatre Live’s production of Hamlet (2016), with celebrity actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, looking particularly at the production in the context of its Italian reception. The production was intended to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary, and in addition to reflecting on the nature of intermedial theatre and performance, this paper aims to understand how the ‘Britishness’ of the production interacted with the Italian identity of the audience. It considers, among other things, the strategies of marketing and the local use of subtitles (and therefore of a written translation on screen).

Melissa Croteau examines the comic opera Le Songe d’une Nuit d’Eté (1850) by French composer Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896), which features Shakespeare himself as a character, thereby presenting the playwright as a model or inspiration for French artists. In 1729, Voltaire had declared that “Shakespeare was a genius full of strength and fecundity, of naturalness and sublimity, without the tiniest particle of good taste.” Voltaire’s seemingly ambivalent views on the British Bard were widely known and accepted well into the nineteenth century. This paper argues that Le Songe functions as a Romantic allegory of the coarse artistic genius elevated and sanctified by royal and spiritual powers in an attempt to glorify and justify Shakespeare while, more importantly, making an appeal to French artists to move away from their adherence to neoclassical symmetry, restraint, and stasis, which persisted even in the work and opinions of the French Romantics. Le Songe was revived in 1994 with a staging in Paris at the completion of the Chunnel. The recording of the production was subsequently screened in Covent Garden in 2003 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Elizabeth I’s death. Le Songe thus resonated with two significant intercultural moments, while also opening up new perspectives on the idea of staging Shakespeare as an artist.

Together the papers open up new critical insights on the theme of Shakespeare and European theatre through their exploration of three thought-provoking stage productions.

Biographical details of speakers

Dr Victoria Bladen teaches in literary studies and adaptation at The University of Queensland, Australia and received a Faculty award for teaching excellence in 2015. She has has published four Shakespearean text guides in the Insight series: Measure for Measure (2015), Henry IV Part 1 (2012), Julius Caesar (2011), and Romeo and Juliet (2010). She co-edited Supernatural and Secular Power in Early Modern England (Ashgate 2015) and Shakespeare on Screen: Macbeth (PURH 2013), and has published articles in several volumes of the Shakespeare on Screen series, most recently in Shakespeare on Screen: Othello (Cambridge University Press 2015). Other publications include articles on tree and garden imagery in early modern poetry, Jane Austen, and the pastoral genre. Her most recent publication is a special issue of the Australian Literary Studies journal on Afterlives of Pastoral. Victoria has convened study abroad programmes in Florence, Rome and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Assoc Prof Maddalena Pennacchia is Associate Professor of English Literature at Roma Tre University (Italy). She is the editor of Literary Intermediality: The Transit of Literature through the Media Circuit (Peter Lang 2007), co-editor of Questioning Bodies in Shakespeare’s Rome (V&R Unipress 2010) and co-editor of Adaptation, Intermediality and the British Celebrity Biopic (Ashgate, 2014). Her publications include the monograph Shakespeare intermediale. I drammi romani (Editoria e Spettacolo 2012), the bio-fiction for children Shakespeare e il sogno di un’estate (Lapis, 2009) and a number of essays in international edited collections and journals. Her research interests include intermediality and literature, adaptation theory, Shakespeare and Jane Austen on screen, the biopic and cultural tourism.

Prof Melissa Croteau is Professor of Film Studies & Literature and the Director of Film Studies at California Baptist University. For two decades, she has been teaching university courses on early modern British literature and culture, film history and theory, and film adaptation. Prof. Croteau has presented papers and given lectures on world cinema, Shakespeare on film, and religion in film at numerous international conferences. Her publications include the book Re-forming Shakespeare: Adaptations and Appropriations of the Bard in Millennial Film and Popular Culture (LAP, 2013); a co-edited volume entitled Apocalyptic Shakespeare: Essays on Visions of Chaos and Revelation in Recent Film Adaptations (McFarland, 2009); an edited collection entitled Reel Histories: Studies in American Film (Press Americana, 2008); and essays on the films V for Vendetta (2005) and Hamlet Goes Business (1986).