The Contemporary Shakespearean Actor as the Site of Adaptive Encounter




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


This thesis investigates the cultural uses and implied signifying practices of the work of actors who are popularly and frequently described as 'Shakespearean.' Though ubiquitous figures within culture, there is a dearth of criticism which questions what qualities are invoked in the use of the term ‘Shakespearean’ and what implicit judgements of value or taste, class or cultural function are at work in its attribution. Although works such as Carol Chillington Rutter’s Clamorous Voices have analysed the figure of the female Shakespearean, moreover, the male Shakespearean remains largely an unexplored site of meaning and definition. It is this focus on the body of the actor which represents my original contribution to knowledge. Indeed, despite the preponderance of actor-based studies in Film Studies or, indeed, Theatre Studies, Adaptation Studies has been slow to locate the body as an adaptive site; concentrating instead upon themes, authors, the work of directors or, more recently, the influence of production factors. My thesis argues for the Shakespearean actor as a site of adaptation, positing it as a conduit for the transferable commdity value which is ‘Shakespeare’ and thereby considering the differences which may occur in the production of meaning as the Shakespearean actor moves between cultural hierarchies: from ‘high’ to ‘low’, or mainstream culture. An essential part of this thesis and an aspect which further argues for its contribution to this field is, therefore, analysis of popular cultural texts which have largely been ignored by adaptation critics. Although figures such as Richard Burt have recognised the value of popular or counter-cultural texts for an understanding of Shakespeare’s far-reaching and often surprising influence, the more tangential work in the Shakespearean actor’s filmography provide equally valuable ground to mine. An understanding of a Shakespearean actor’s cultural function is thus served by critiquing their mainstream films as well as their more documented Shakespearean oeuvre. By focusing on the implicitly multidirectional possibilities of adaptation as a process, I explore what values the ‘Shakespearean’ holds in contemporary culture and whether these maintain a popular perception of the Shakespearean actor as a representative of conservatism, elitism and ‘high’ culture. Or, whether the Shakespearean actor contains the potential for subverting some of the associations which Shakespeare’s legacy has accrued over time.



Adaptation, Shakespeare, Actor, Performance Studies, Theatre Studies, Popular Culture



Research Institute

Institute of English