The portrayal of Shakespeare on film/TV.
Shakespeare was a genius and a great one – yet, why, I wonder, is his portrayal so often of something else?
Today, I watched the Shakespeare Code episode of Doctor Who. In this The Doctor travels back in time, to Shakespeare’s era (otherwise known as the Elizabethan era) and meets William Shakespeare. I found the portrayal of Shakespeare, on TV, most disagreeable. In this version of old William, he is portrayed as a man whose ideas are often taken from the words of others. Every time he hears an interesting phrase from The Doctor (actually quotes of Shakespeare’s yet to be written works), Shakespeare says: “I’ll use that!” Personally, I really don’t think it is possible or probable that William Shakespeare really worked in this way. His work is too abundant, too fluent, too of a whole, to have depended on bon mots from others. This, in a very real sense, is a libellous portrayal of Shakespeare – it is portraying him, as a plagiarist.
So, too, did the film Shakespeare in Love with Joseph Fiennes portray Shakespeare as a man whose words sometimes came from others. There, too, he was always on the look out for “inspiration” on the lips of others. Again, I don’t think it possible or even remotely likely that Shakespeare worked in this fashion.
The question is: why do screen writers portray Shakespeare on film in this unflattering fashion? I can only assume that it is because they, themselves, actually work in this fashion. It is likely that they are assuming that Shakespeare is just a better version of what they do themselves. So, since they operate by stealing good lines from others, listening out for “inspiration” on others’ lips – they presume that Shakespeare did the same. They are simply projecting their own methods, onto him.
Thus, the next time you see Shakespeare portrayed as a serial plagiarist, realize that this is simply the author’s way of confessing their own nature and practices – and not the truth of William Shakespeare himself. They are just seeing Shakespeare as a super version of themselves.
In a way, it is very disappointing to see a man of such genius as Shakespeare portrayed on film in such a diminished and diminishing light. I would like to see a filmic rendering of his life, that shows him as he must have been: magnificently intelligent and fluent and copiously creative, to the point of being beyond all other men of his time. Now, that would be a portrayal worth seeing – and one that might actually convey some sense of what genius is, and can be.
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