Thursday featured several splendid plenaries, but BritGrad is mainly an opportunity for students to give and hear student papers. I was only able to attend one panel at a time, so here is just a sampling of brilliant panels on the first day of BritGrad 2015.
I was required to attend the panel on Screen Adaptations, and I’m glad I did. I presented my paper “Korol Lir: When the Political Becomes Metaphysical”, a piece on Grigori Kozintsev’s powerful 1971 adaptation of King Lear. ThisLear is both socially and spiritually astute, grim but less pessimistic than many interpretations.
Hayley O’Malley’s (University of Michigan) presentation “Child Solicitor: Innocence and Interpersonal Ignorance in Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus” examined what she called a “network of boyhood” in the 2011 film. She found the absence of children and young people, especially in the protest scenes, to be as telling as the silent presence of several children. A dead Volscian boy spurs Aufidius’s revenge against Coriolanus, a boy on horseback serves as a kind of soliloquy for the protagonist, and silence gives both mini-Martius and his mother Virgilia effective voices.
Blake Barbiche (The Shakespeare Institute) analyzed why Carlo Carlei’s 2013 film Romeo and Juliet was a commercial and critical failure in her essay “‘O [No] Romeo, Romeo’: Shakespearean Film Adaptation Gone Amiss”. She found it to be incohesive and unoriginal. Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame heavily altered the script, and the gorgeous visuals borrowed from Baz Luhrmann’s and Franco Zeffirelli’s versions of the play. Editing often muddled characterizations, and the whole piece lacked humor and “youthful energy”. Barbiche concluded that clarification of Shakespeare’s text was often preferable to drastic simplification.
The second panel I attended, Choices and Interpretations, began with Fiona Dunne’s (University of Southampton) “The Complexity of an Evil Choice in Macbeth.” Dunne used complexity science to analyze Macbeth. Complexity science is an expanding field that studies multiple actions and can be used to track epidemics or measure sustainability. Dunne believed it overlaps with the arts in the way it examines what we don’t know, making a case for literary text being a complex system. Initial conditions are extremely important, and the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This playworld can be divided into performance, production/edition, and text/context.
Jessica Chiba (Royal Holloway, University of London) discussed ontology and Shakespeare in “To be or not to be–what is the question?” The most famous line in Hamlet captures the imagination of so many partly because it is an ontological mystery. What is being? Characters throughout Shakespeare’s works declare they are what they are, or they are not what they are. What makes these characters believe this? In comparison to his contemporaries, Shakespeare was quite unusual in the way he focused on questions about existence and being.
Caroline Heaton’s (Sheffield Hallam University) paper “Casting, cutting, and costume: reflections on reviewing Shakespeare in performance” followed her journey of pursuing an MA by reviewing RSC productions for a 40,000 word thesis. She is still in the process of compiling and editing reviews; cutting them down is one of the most difficult parts. Heaton went over what a production might include: text, design, concept, context, actors, and audience. For each production, she wondered what most critics missed what most people discussed. Also, was there a way to remain objective? Perhaps the most difficult question she asked was how to make her reviews relevant to others.
The final panel of the day was Tragic Appropriations. Saksham Sharda (University of Kent) spoke about “The Accidental Racialization of Caste in Bollywood’s Appropriation of Othello“. He criticized the film Omkara for merging caste and race, a conflation he considered a foreign imposition. In this version, Othello was of a low caste, but he also had darker skin than other characters. Sharda also touched on whether Shakespeare was truly universal or simply imperial, noting how it replaced the Bible as a means of colonialism.
Mette Sjolin’s (Lund University) “Appropriating trends: Shakespeare’s tragedies in modern drama” covered several modern adaptations of King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet. She noticed a distinct feminist trend. Pieces about Lear often looked at the sisters and their absent mother, focusing mostly on what happened before the play. Romeo and Juliet adaptations were frequently romantic comedies, asking what might have happened. Othello prompted artists to wonder, did it have to happen? Macbeth adaptations turned to history, asking what really happened, and Hamlet posed a conundrum as to whether “it” really happened at all, causing adapters to question and reimagine the play.
Eilís Smyth (The Shakespeare Institute) concluded the panel and the day with her paper “Naming Lady Macbeth: Searching for Scotland in the ‘Scottish Play'”. In spite of appropriating Scottish history, Macbeth is classified as a tragedy rather than history. This incredibly famous “Scottish play” is written by an English writer based on Holinshed’s Chronicles, which are filled with anti-Scottish bias. Queen Gruoch is dehumanized to the point of being the nameless Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth was likely not such a bad ruler. Little research has been done on Shakespeare in Scotland, and perhaps bardolatry has blinded critics to this unique case of cultural disenfranchisement by Shakespeare.
BritGrad 2015 witnessed a marvelous first day of plenaries and panels on adaptation, philosophy, and more. Thankfully, the scintillating conversations carried on throughout the entire conference.
Until next time!