Books by Richard Burt

Released: Feb. 9, 1998

Something is rotten in this collection of essays on film treatments of Shakespeare's plays. Various circumstances—only glanced at here—have created a recent, sizable, and profitable multimedia Shakespearean revival in our midst: from Kenneth Branagh's glamorous epic efforts to cartoons to such maverick adaptations as My Own Private Idaho and Prospero's Books. Trying to grapple loosely with this trend, editors Boose and Burt, English professors at Dartmouth and the University of Massachusetts, respectively, present a wide cross- section of Anglo-American essays (including their own unremarkable contributions) drawn from all corners of current critical theory, from deconstructionism to feminist and queer theory. But whatever their ideological and critical underpinnings or their ostensible subjects, most of these essays are about nothing so much as ourselves. Perhaps it is a testament to his genius that every generation can find itself reflected perfectly in Shakespeare. And so, we have Barbara Hodgdon comparing Othello with the O.J. Simpson case in raising issues of race and gender; Katherine Eggert reading Bugsy as a remake of Antony and Cleopatra; Donald Hedrick detecting imperialist impulses in Branagh's Henry V; and so on. Most of the essayists are professors of English, yet their mastery of Shakespeare is usually not matched by their understanding of film and film theory. And despite a few game attempts at delineating the effects of Shakespeare's current filmic popularizations on his plays—most notably, Robert Hapgood's thoughts on Zeffirelli and Tony Howard's on King Lear—most of the contributors here prefer to pace endlessly about in the academic prisons of their thoughts. Some bright, particular stars can be found, but as Hotspur might proclaim: ``Such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff.'' Read full book review >