Shakespeare in Contemporary Movies Essay

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Shakespeare in Contemporary Movies

In the middle of Looking for Richard, Al Pacino's documentary about making Richard III and bringing Shakespeare to the people, there is a moment which illuminates the relationship of scholarship, Shakespeare and popular culture. The director is ranting at Pacino for offering (threatening?) to bring a Shakespearean scholar into the film:

You said you were going to find a scholar to speak directly into the camera and explain what really went down and I'm telling you that is ridiculous, that you know more about Richard III than any fucking scholar at Columbia or Harvard.
Pacino tries to calm his friend down by pointing out that everyone, even a scholar, is entitled to an opinion about
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Compared with Pacino's manly stubble, stylish baseball cap, and constant action (performing Shakespeare, running about the streets of New York, gesturing as he talks), the scholar appears to be a different species. Moreover, his response to the question about why Richard needed to marry Lady Anne (the original problem that sent Pacino in search of a scholar) is that he doesn't know.

Actually, the scholar says he doesn't know the historical reason. Something about the way the scene is cut makes me suspect (scholar that I am) that he went on to give a perfectly acceptable reason for Shakespeare's Richard to determine on a quick marriage to Anne, or at least speculate on a probable cause (that is, after all, what scholars do). But all that remains in the scene is an admission of incompetence. Thus the scholar-priest is revealed as a fraud and Pacino can go back to his actors and street people for real, true answers about Shakespeare. Since the goal of his film is to return/introduce Shakespeare to the people, this is the only appropriate result of a visit to a scholar.

This vacillation between seeking out a scholar to explain or verify Shakespeare’s worth and undercutting or going beyond that scholarly authority is present in a recent spate of films using Shakespeare as a nexus of conflict in a student’s relationship to teachers and traditional school. In these films, sometimes for just a moment, sometimes as a
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