Shakespeare and Silent Film

Judith Buchanan

in The Edinburgh Companion to Shakespeare and the Arts

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780748635238
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652297 | DOI:
Shakespeare and Silent Film

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This chapter asks for a reappraisal of Shakespeare in his silent film appearances. Beginning with King John, it reports that the films of the period are distinctive for encouraging moments of communion and stimulating imaginative effort. It is suggested that a landmark juncture was the point at which practitioners abandoned the stage to embrace new-found confidence in the cinematic medium. Herbert Beerbohm Tree's own reflections on the production process suggest he was genuinely entranced with the American film industry. The approach of the King John film was in tune with the industry's filmmaking impulses in relation to adaptation more generally in the pioneering years. Shakespeare films had not previously tended to attract artistic plaudits specifically from cineastes. 1916/17 was a significant coming-of-age moment for silent Shakespearean cinema. For some Shakespearen, silent cinema showcased actors engaged in frantic and undignified gesturing and then had the gall to call that ‘Shakespeare’.

Keywords: silent film; Shakespeare; King John; Herbert Beerbohm Tree; American film industry; silent Shakespearean cinema

Chapter.  9821 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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