Seminar 15: Shakespeare in French Film/France in Shakespearean Film

France has a complex and unique relationship with Shakespeare. Despite the nation’s close proximity and historical ties to Britain, French literary artists and philosophers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras generally thought Shakespeare too uncouth and indecorous to be included in the rolls of the greatest dramatists, such as Molière and Corneille. It was the French Romantics of the nineteenth century who embraced Shakespeare and ushered in the popularity of Shakespeare on stage in France, in the same century the film industry was being born in Paris. This seminar will explore the many ways in which Shakespeare’s work has influenced French cinema and has been adapted to the screen in France, from the silent era to the present, including offshoots and films which use Shakespeare’s works as significant intertexts, from Les enfants du paradis (Marcel Carné, 1945) to L’Appartement (Gilles Mimouni, 1996). Conversely, the seminar also will invite papers that consider how the nation, people, and culture of France have been depicted in Shakespearean films. The term Shakespearean films here includes all kinds of cinematic and television adaptations of the plays as well as offshoots (or spinoffs) that use the Bard’s work for sundry purposes and agendas.

This subject invites reflection on the traditions and methods of “reading” and presenting Shakespeare in France. For instance, one might examine Sarah Bernhardt’s famed stage performance in the role of Hamlet in 1899 and the filming of Bernhardt’s Hamlet-Laertes duel scene in 1900, reputedly the first time any part of Hamlet was recorded for the screen. The relationship between French Shakespearean stage actors, like Bernhardt, and their non-Shakespeare on-screen roles could be explored. More recently, the casting of Sophie Marceau in Hoffman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999) or the cameo appearance of Gérard Depardieu in Branagh’s Hamlet might warrant analysis of how the French identity of actors is used in English-language adaptations. In addition, the many cinematic adaptations of Henry V offer fertile ground for investigating how the French are represented in Shakespeare’s work and are then translated into film at pivotal historical moments, such as Sir Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, which was filmed during World War II and features a mise-en-scène derived self-consciously from the Duc de Berry’s medieval Book of Hours. Or one might explore how explicitly French settings in some of Shakespeare plays—Love’s Labour’s Lost and All’s Well That Ends Well in particular—have been handled in screen adaptations. Furthermore, one could examine the reception of cinematic Shakespeare in France, as Sarah Hatchuel has done with Kenneth Branagh’s work. The place of Shakespeare in French cinema and the place of France in Shakespearean cinema also has been investigated in the work of Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin and Patricia Dorval, who have been pioneering a website that catalogues and analyzes Shakespearean allusions in French film. Last but not least, one might examine the kinds of cultural work done by Shakespeare references, explicit and implicit, in particular French films, in certain film genres in France, at certain periods in French cinema, or in the oeuvre of a French director. To what audiences are such references directed? How are such references understood within a French cultural context? How do such references (re)conceptualize the nature and influence of Shakespeare’s work? To what extent can one speak of a distinctively French approach to adapting Shakespeare to the screen?

Seminar Structure: This seminar will include up to twenty members, and seminar papers should be 3,000 to 4,000 words in length. Members will read all the seminar papers but will respond in detail via email to three other papers before the seminar meets.

Submissions should be sent by email to ->] AND [.
Please include the following with your proposal:

  • the full title of your paper;
  • a 250-400 word description of your paper;
  • your name, postal address and e-mail address;
  • your institutional affiliation and position;
  • a short bionote;
  • AV requirements (if any).

Deadline for proposals: 10 September 2013