Shakespeare Interpretive Writing

This paper will be a short critical, analytical, and comparative essay (3-5 pages) that applies the elements of adaptation and reinvention that we’ve discussed in class to texts of your own choosing. You will choose one adaptation of Shakespeare not assigned in class, and write about the decisions made in its creation. This should not be simply a bullet-pointed list of differences but should engage in the whys and hows of adaptation– what motivation did the creators have in choosing to bring Shakespeare to life in the way that they did, and just as importantly, to what extent and in what ways do you think that they succeeded or failed? You will be asked to be able to write in some depth about both the adaptation you have chosen and the Shakespearean source text, and to draw from secondary sources such as scholarly articles, reviews, or even interviews with directors, actors, composers, cinematographers, etc.


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While you will probably have the easiest time with this assignment if you choose to work with a film, I will not make it mandatory. If you would prefer to write about a television show, a particularly inventive stage production, a comic, a musical work (like Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet) or even a videogame I encourage you to think outside of the box. If you have any questions about what might constitute an appropriate adaptation or have a specific idea you want to double-check, please contact me to discuss it.



Here’s a quick checklist of what I’m looking for.

Length: 3-5 pages, double-spaced. Longer is fine, shorter is strongly discouraged. I want you to really dig into fine details and be able to also stretch out to the bigger picture and that requires space.
Style: Treat this as a formal academic essay. First person is fine, but I expect complete sentences and standard MLA format, from page numbers all the way down to a tidy and organized works cited page.
Sources: Speaking of which! You should have two big obvious sources, one Shakespeare play and (at least) one adaptation. You may choose any Shakespeare play, including plays not discussed in class, but the adaptation should be something not on the syllabus. On top of that, you should also have a minimum of three secondary sources to serve as research or support for your claims. These can be anything from academic articles to reviews by professional film critics to cast and crew interviews but they should be credible and from reputable sources. A quote from a movie’s director commentary track is fine, a review from rotten tomatoes by kratom_joker_98 isn’t. I will link a style guide for citing multimedia sources, so please be sure to consult that to make sure your citations are easy to follow.
Scope: You may either focus on the macro-scale and discuss structural and thematic choices covering the entire play (for example, how European feudalism vs. Japanese feudalism inform Macbeth vs. Throne of Blood) or zero in on a specific scene (eg. the ballroom scene in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet) or interpretations of a particular character (Nick Bottom across several adaptations). Your choice will not effect the total page-length, so in all likelihood the more specific and focused your thesis is, the more in-depth your treatment will need to be. This is not a bad thing, and in fact could very well make your life easier!
Thesis: This should be a thesis driven paper. That means I’m not looking for a simple compare and contrast, but for an actual argument articulated early in the paper. “Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is quite different from the original play in x, y, and z ways” is not as compelling as “Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream accentuates the gulf between the story’s social worlds by utilizing anachronism and class-coding.”
Methods: You should be prepared to compare, analyze, and synthesize. This means identifying and describing significant points of similarity and departure between the original play and your chosen adaptation(s), being able to speculate about why and how these differences manifest (or don’t) and finally proposing a broader meaning to them. Each of these steps should be supported by textual evidence from your primary texts as well as support from secondary sources. To offer a really basic example:
Compare: “In Hamlet everybody is a human, in The Lion King everybody is an animal.”
Analyze: “This allows the audience to quickly grasp visual short-hands about the characters (lions are noble, hyenas are cowardly but fierce) and suggests a natural hierarchy (lions are rulers)”
Synthesize: “For an audience unaccustomed to believing in the ‘divine right’ of kings, coding different animals as different social positions allows viewers to internalize the sense of established orders being subverted and disturbed by the violent death of a king.”

In other words: draw out an adaptation choice, discern that choice’s motive, and then detail the significance of that choice. If you’d like, you can also evaluate these choices. Does an adaptation succeed as a compelling and coherent text or does it fall short in some ways? Why? If you take this route, be able to point to, again, specific textual evidence to support your conclusion.

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