Journal Article

The Skull in the Eye: ‘How fucked up is that?’ Carnivalesque and Metatextual Variations on <i>Hamlet</i> in <i>Let the Devil Wear Black</i>

Bruce Wyse

in Adaptation

Volume 5, issue 2, pages 241-261
Published in print September 2012 | ISSN: 1755-0637
Published online June 2012 | e-ISSN: 1755-0645 | DOI:
The Skull in the Eye: ‘How fucked up is that?’ Carnivalesque and Metatextual Variations on Hamlet in Let the Devil Wear Black

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Irreverently disregarding the letter of Shakespeare’s text, Let the Devil Wear Black nevertheless preserves something of Hamlet’s spirit, particularly its elements of satire, parody, and burlesque that often seem vitiated in important or ‘legitimate’ cinematic renditions of the play itself. Both an homage and a travesty, the film crosses a sampling of the most familiar and archetypal moments from the ‘great book’ with the codes of a variety of popular film genres, and in doing so, recaptures some of the heterogeneity, the popular appeal, and the ludic energies of Shakespeare’s play. The episodic film offers up carnivalesque and vulgarizing ‘riffs’ on scenes, speeches, and moments from Hamlet, demeaning the canonical work and profaning the preserve of high culture. The ‘skull in the eye’ is an emblem of the selective structural literalism of the film: what it has done to Hamlet (violating, shattering, and dispersing the text) and what Hamlet does to it (incalculably and improbably piercing the narrative and lodging in the cinematic eye the bits of structure and signification which once held the play together).

Keywords: Carnivalesque; Hamlet; carnality; metatextual; pop culture; hybridization.

Journal Article.  10867 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film ; Television ; Literature

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