Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

On “On the origin of adaptations” (and, inevitably, Shakespeare)

July 8th, 2013 · 1 Comment

Before I start, can I just say that I’m amazed that I didn’t know Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme”? My life is forever changed.

 I’ve chosen to post a blog about “On the origin of adaptations” because I’m really interested in film adaptations and movies in general. I was a Film Studies minor during my undergrad (the one where you study movies, not the one where you make them). This minor wasn’t due to any special talent or deep knowledge of film; mostly I just wanted to sit around watching and talking about movies. So. I am now going to proceed to sit in front of my laptop and type about movies.

 While I was initially a bit baffled by the idea of “homology” between biological and film adaptation, after reading through the article I find value in the comparison. I like that the article points out that “biology does not judge adaptations in terms of fidelity to the ‘original’; indeed, that is not the point at all” (445). While film adaptations are often panned for going “off the script” of the source material, biological adaptation necessitates this kind of change. Perhaps, like biological adaptations, film adaptations should attempt to improve upon the originating material and adapt to changing social and cultural environments. This is summed up quite nicely in the article’s simple formula: “narrative idea + cultural environment = adaptation” (448). Math!

 The article touches on an issue that I fondly call the Shakespeare Exception, in that Shakespeare is celebrated as high culture despite containing certain elements of style and subject matter which, when they appear in any work not written by Shakespeare, are disdainfully labeled low culture. In the article, the Shakespearean Exception is that we don’t criticize Shakespeare for straying from the source material he used to write Romeo and Juliet, whereas we so often critical of more modern adaptations that do the same thing. (To learn more about the source material for Romeo and Juliet, you can watch this awesome video by Young Adult fiction author John Green.) Another example of the Shakespearean Exception that I rather obsessively must mention is that of the pun.  Shakespeare’s plays are packed with line after line of shameless and wonderful puns, yet when I make an especially punny joke involving the words duty and doody, I am not celebrated for my brilliant Shakespearean wit (as I rightfully should be).

 Before I sign off, I feel the need to bring up an issue not dealt with much in the article that complicates the idea of adaptation, and that is the fact that adaptation is not always a strictly book-to-film process. In these mad times of ours, we have board games, action figures, and TV series being made into films. We also have films being adapted into books, comics, and other media. Indeed, adaptation is a messy and unpredictable thing: just as Twelfth Night became She’s the Man, the dinosaur became the chicken.

Work Cited

 Bortolotti, G. and Hutcheon, L. (2007). On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success” — Biologically. New Literary History, 38(3), pp. 443-458.

– Allison

Blog post #1

Tags: adaptations · Uncategorized

1 response so far ↓

  • crelkov // Jul 10th 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Great post! I really like your idea of the Shakespeare Exception…especially since some of the “elements of style and subject matter” that you mention are exactly the things that we (teachers) often try to explicitly point out to our students in order to increase their interest and engagement with the plays. I recall directing my students to certain points in Macbeth that I knew they would find funny or strange, as long as they understood what was being said. Some of the jokes in Shakespeare are, as you mention, exactly what would be considered ‘low-brow’ elsewhere…yet students so often have the idea that Shakespeare is always completely serious.

    I also couldn’t help thinking about Jane Austen when I was reading your post. Her works are just one example of texts that were considered fluff (or not valid in some other way, depending on the who/what/when) when they were written, but that are important parts of the canon now. I’m sure I’m not the first person to question how long it takes for a text to gain that position. Or…to wonder about all the texts that have been lost over the years. While doing some reading about Beowulf recently I learned about the fact that very few texts from the same period have survived. The only copy of Beowulf around was almost lost in a library fire in 1731. The modern world came very close to never knowing the story of Beowulf! Who knows how many great (or not-so-great) pieces of writing were lost. We venerate the works we have…though, that’s not to say that the writing isn’t also good!

    But, getting back to Shakespeare…I’ve also had the opportunity to study the works of some of his contemporaries and the question did come up in that class – why are these plays not as well known and/or studied as Shakespeare’s? I guess it could be another part of the Shakespeare Exception…he’s just special!

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