Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost

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Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost

In our teaching of Shakespearean film adaptation to undergraduates, one of the issues that frequently arises in class discussions is the question of how the visuality of the cinematic medium is constructed in tension against the verbal nature of Shakespeare's dialogue. The tension between the visual and verbal dimensions of filming Shakespeare is created on two levels: firstly, where the poetry of Shakespeare, functioning as word pictures that stimulate and enhance the imagination of the spectator is set against the capacity of film to show rather than tell; and secondly, where the adaptation negotiates with the canonicity of the Shakespearean text through the mode of the popular.[1] One recent example is Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996) in which the play was made to compete radically with what has been called Luhrmann's 'MTV'-inspired editing, pacing and styling. [2] Another is Branagh's Hamlet (1996), where the concentrated effort to retain every single line of the play created its own burden of visualisation.[3] The creative energy of a Shakespearean film adaptation is often sustained by the dynamic of creating a visual track to 'match' the play's dialogue; in other words, by the question of what images can be used to animate or do 'justice' to Shakespeare's text.

Where Shakespeare on film had once been expected to retain the traits of 'high' theatre and art, complete with 'authentic' period costumes,[4] recent adaptations have become more adventurous, liberally adopting popular idioms and surprising expectations of 'Shakespeare' by visual styles drawn from contemporary entertainment.[5] Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost (2000), the focus of this paper, adapts Shakespeare's play to the American movie musical, but it depends less on creating a contemporary visual track that runs parallel to the text than on interpolating an aural one which intercepts and weaves another lyric and melodic text into it. Samuel Crowl argues that the musical is a 'very American' genre, which he surmises accounts for the relative lack of success of the film (40).

In our analysis, we will discuss the conversion of Shakespeare's poetic form into the musical form, and explore how the engagement of the spectator's aural experience (i.e. through the music and songs) is as important as the visual, if not more so, in negotiating the transfer of Shakespeare to the screen. We have identified three strategies of adaptation which we will discuss in the three sections of this essay firstly, the exchange of poetry with popular song; secondly, the construction of spectatorship and listenership as recovery and recollection; and finally, the performativity that mediates between the poetic and musical forms.
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