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Drama on Stage and Screen Essay

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Updated: Apr 12th, 2019

Numerous attempts have been made to create screen versions of William Shakespeare’s plays. This paper is aimed at discussing one of such adaptations, namely the movie Twelfth Night or What You Will directed by Trevor Nunn. The film-makers had to make the comedy accessible to the modern audience without oversimplifying its plot, language, and themes. This is the main challenge that they faced.

In particular, they had to create a fast-paced plot and retain the most important scenes. Furthermore, it was necessary to make sure that the actions and motives of the main characters were fully understandable to the viewers. Finally, the film-makers had to retain the beauty of William Shakespeare’s verses. They had to bridge the gap between the author’s language and the language of the audience.

Despite the challenges, this screen adaptation succeeds one of the main themes explored by the playwright, for example the artificial nature of gender differences. This is why Trevor Nunn’s film is a good adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy and it is worth attention.

First of all, Trevor Nunn wanted to make sure that the audience could easily of the movie the plot of the movie; this is why he rearranged the scenes and added new ones. It should be noted that Shakespeare’s play starts immediately on the island of Illyria. The author describes the conversation between Orsino and Curio (Shakespeare 1). Only later the readers can fully grasp the twists of the plot and the comedy of errors.

In contrast, the film opens with the description of Viola and Sebastian’s voyage and the subsequent shipwreck (Twelfth Night: Or What You Will). In this way, the film-makers tried to emphasize the point that the brother and sister were separated by a certain irresistible force.

Later they have to confront different comic situations that could be explained by errors and misunderstanding. Moreover, Trevor Nunn decided to incorporate the voice-over narration in the movie. The narration is told by Feste’s who knows more about actions and intentions of other people (Twelfth Night or What You Will).

Overall, Feste can be called an omniscient character. One can say that in this way, the film-makers attempted to unify different scene of the Shakespeare’s play. Overall, Trevor Nunn managed to make the following scenes and dialogues more lucid. Therefore, by introducing the third-person narration they were better able to achieve this goal.

Furthermore, the creators of the film tried to describe a social and cultural environment that could be more understandable to contemporary viewers. To order to Shakespeare’s plays, readers and viewers have to have some background knowledge of the Elizabethan society, its norms and values. These norms may not be familiar to modern viewers.

This is one of the reasons why the action takes places in the nineteenth century Europe, rather than Elizabethan period. Even the main character’s clothing indicates that they could not possible live in the sixteen or seventeenth century England (Twelfth Night: Or What You Will). Besides, one can mention the film contains the music of the Edwardian era (Brusberg-Kiermeier and Helbig 156).

This is a direct reference to the nineteenth century England. In this way, the film-makers were able to show that the situations described by William Shakespeare’s play can be applicable to people who live in different societies and cultures. This is why this movie can be regarded as a success.

Thus, one has to admit that Trevor Nunn had to make some alterations in the plot and setting; nevertheless, these changes did not prevent the film-makers from exploring the main theme of the comedy, in particular, the artificial nature of gender roles and common stereotypes about men and women. This is why this screen version is worth considering.

Secondly, the creators of the film had to remain within certain time limits that are set for commercial movies. Certainly, these limits are not strictly determined by some external authority, but directors have to remember that it is difficult to keep the viewers’ attention if the movie lasts for more three hours.

This is another challenge that Trevor Nunn had to face while adapting the movie. Shakespeare’s play includes five acts and nineteen scenes. It could be difficult to include all of them into the film. This is why some scenes were excluded from the movie, for instance, the first conversation between Orsino and Curio. One should bear in mind that this movie lasts for 134 minutes.

By strictly following Shakespeare’s play, Trevor Nunn would have exceeded the time limits. Overall, one can say that the plot of this film is very fast-paced and it keeps the attention of the audience. This is this film enjoys popularity among many viewers. So, Trevor Nunn’s editing decisions were quite successful. His movie can give viewers a good idea about the original text and this is one of its main advantages.

Another aspect that should be discussed is the difference between the language of William Shakespeare and the language used in the movie. While writing his plays, William Shakespeare used words and expressions that could be understandable to people living in the Elizabethan society, but they may be misinterpreted by contemporary speakers of English.

For instance, the place contains such as a phrase “I have taken great pains to con it” (Shakespeare 50). In contrast, the film-makers decided to substitute the verb “con” for “learn” (Twelfth Night: Or What You Will). The thing is that at the time of Shakespeare the verb “to con” did not have a negative meaning of fraud or swindle.

This example indicates that Shakespearian language should be sometimes altered or adjusted; otherwise, modern viewers can misinterpret his line. Therefore, Trevor Nunn and his colleagues had to make sure that dialogues are properly understood by contemporary viewers.

However, the director remained more or less faithful to Shakespeare’s language, and the viewers can appreciate the beauty of the verse. So, one should not suppose that Trevor Nunn completely modernized the original text of Shakespeare’s comedy. Thus, the screen adaptation proved to be successful, at least to some degree.

Nevertheless, these differences do not mean that this film is inferior to the play. One should remember that the behavior of characters is expressed differently on stage and screen. For example, contemporary cinematographers can visualize the tempest mentioned by William Shakespeare in his play.

There are several aspects of the film that make it worth attention. In particular, one can speak about the performance of Imogen Stubbs, Toby Stephen and Helena Bonham Carter. They perfectly impersonated Viola, Orsino, and Olivia. Special attention should be paid to Imogen Stubbs and Toby Stephen who were able to describe the comic situations arising out of the similarity between the brother and sister.

Overall, these performers are able to reflect the experiences of the siblings. Additionally, one should not forget about the performance of Helena Bonham Carter who plays Olivia. This actress shows how love can affect and transform even the most reticent and reserved person. Skillful performance is probably the main strength of the film because actors were able to render the motives behind the behavior of the main characters.

They were able to convey Shakespeare’s irony and the complexity of his characters. These actors greatly contributed to the success of the film. As it has been noted before, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy retained the vibrancy of the original text. This is another reason why this movie achieved critical recognition and popularity among viewers.

Overall, one can argue that Trevor Nunn and his colleagues were able to overcome the challenges related to the screen adaptation. There are some differences between the original text and its screen adaptation, but these differences do not prevent the viewers from enjoying William Shakespeare’s ideas and language.

The movie was successful in rendering the authors’ sense of comedy and paradox. Moreover, the actors were able to convey the beauty of the original text and the complexity of the character’s behavior.

The sexuality plays an important part in the film. Trevor Nunn was able to demonstrate that in many cases, gender differences are social constructs that have nothing to do with the internal traits of a person. So, Trevor Nunn’s adaptation is a good attempt to translate Shakespeare’s comedy into the language of cinematography.

Works Cited

Brusberg-Kiermeier, Stefani, and J. Helbig. Shakespeare in the Media: From the Globe Theatre to the World Wide Web, New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night: or, What You Will, New York: Harold Bloom, 2007. Print.

Twelfth Night: Or What You Will. Ex. Prod. Stephen Evans. London: BBC Films. 1996. DVD.

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