6.24.10 Shakespeare in Popular Culture p. 2

Today, Radio Uprising completed its two-part series on Shakespeare in Popular Culture. We investigated Shakespeare's perennial resonance with culture world-wide, and questioned whether or not pop cultural adaptations are what have kept him alive in the 21st century.

Pre-recorded Piece: Shakespeare Roundtable

When were you first introduced to Shakespeare? Did you like him then, and do you like him now? Why or why not? Would you say Shakespeare lives on in popular culture?

As you'll hear, it turns out most people are introduced to Shakespeare in school, but only really begin liking him when they experience a current, modern, or popculture adaptation of Shakespeare...leading us to think that pop culture renews his influence.

Full audio here:

Images taken via Google Images. Background music: Elizabethan Minuet called "Another Branle" by Anon (16th century).

PSA 1: Vassar Powerhouse Theater Apprentice Program

In-Studio Piece: Famous Quotes Quiz
We gave ourselves a quick quiz in the studio to see if we could identify some famous Shakespeare quotes. Although we couldn't all place each quote, we all readily recognized them -- more evidence of Shakespeare's enduring effect on cultural consciousness!

See if you can place these quotes:
“The lady doth protest too much”

“All that glitters is not gold”

"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts."

"If music be the food of love, play on!"

(for answers, email radiouprisingcmp@gmail.com)
Pre-recorded Piece: "Romeos and Juliets" by Amanda and Raeva

Full audio here:

PSA 2: Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

"Comparing Hamlets:" by Raeva
(read aloud in-studio; full text reproduced below)

The 2000 film, “Hamlet”, directed and adapted by Michael Almereyda, starred Ethan Hawke as a modern-day Hamlet living in New York City, and Julia Stiles as his wife Ophelia. Almereyda’s script featured most of Shakespeare’s original prose, untouched, at the same time that it worked to blend the 16th century story into modern-day. In the film, Denmark the country transforms into Denmark Corporation, and King Claudius into the CEO. In an interview with Cynthia Fuchs, the PopMatters Film and TV Editor, Almereyda explained how he believed his modernization of this classic play did deviate from Shakespeare’s intended themes, merely expanding on them and blending them into modern-day culture. He said, “there's still a class system in the world and in America… and that's aligned with corporate power…. I don't know that that's the most profound aspect of the film but it seemed like a natural way of talking about contemporary power… I don't think that's completely divorced from what Shakespeare was talking about… So, Hamlet sparks a lot of these questions, and I hope the film does also directly address some of those themes and ideas that are spoken about in the soliloquies.”

Unlike many other renditions, 2000’s Hamlet focused less on Hamlet’s madness, and more on his youthfulness, as a reason for his supposed inability to make decisions. Almereyda left Ophelia with the “madness prize”, saying “Ethan and I thought that [Hamlet] didn't have a problem making decisions, he would make a decision and then he'd reverse himself, which is a very different thing, more truthful to human nature and to the character…Hamlet wasn't mad, he was feigning madness. I mean, he was dangerously depressed, which is a kind of madness, but the whole element of him acting goofy, we downplayed that.”

Grossing $1,568,749 in the box office, critics’ reviews were mixed. Almereyda however, remained pleased, saying, “I've had good responses from Shakespeare scholars [pertaining to my adaptation], so I've been lucky to have a good balance [between sticking to the original play and also blending it into modern pop culture].”

In 1996, Kenneth Branagh released his version of the classic Shakespeare tragedy. Branagh himself directed, adapted, and starred in the film, with Kate Winslet as his Ophelia. Released on Christmas day, the movie won a number of awards, as well as four Oscar nominations, including Best Writing of a Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Branagh put less effort into integrating the plot into pop culture, focusing more on keeping the production grounded in its Renaissance roots. The play took place as it was originally intended, in Denmark.

Though only playing in limited theaters across the United States, the 1996 Hamlet still managed to gross $5 million, quite a bit more than its 21st century counterpart. On a whole, critic reviews for the movie were more positive than for Almereyda’s. The New York Times stated that “[Branagh’s] lavish, four-hour Hamlet in 1996, did much to further his status as a man who knew his Bard.”

Five years prior to Branagh’s Hamlet, Franco Zeffirelli had directed another of the same Shakespearean tragedy, starring Mel Gibson as Hamlet and Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia. Nominated for two Academy Awards, critics later agreed that though good, the 1991 Hamlet could not compare with Branagh’s. The production made $20,710,000 in box office sales.

What is most interesting about the level of success of the three movies is that it seems to correlate directly with how true they stayed to Shakespeare’s original Hamlet. Critics in general agreed that Branagh’s Hamlet followed most in accordance with the 16th century version, and though Mel Gibson’s Hamlet grossed more in box office sales, Branagh’s Hamlet won far more awards and was recognized by most reviewers as the better movie. Branagh’s production also was featured in only 100 theaters so that would also have played a part in determining sales. Making $5 million playing in just 100 theaters is a considerable feat. On the other hand, the 2000 Hamlet deviated quite a bit more from the original, and did not do nearly as well, in both box office sales, as well as critic reviews. This, of course, is not to say that all attempts to reinvent or reincarnate Shakespeare’s century-old tradition are futile. It merely suggests that it is harder to produce work based more loosely on Shakespeare than one might think. Not only does the recreation have to stand as a piece of work in its own right, but it must also be juxtaposed with the original, to see if the new can truly be called masterful.


In-Studio Piece: "King Lear Through the Ages"
Mary Ellen tells us all about this famous tragedy's turbulent textual history.

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