The Film Industry Woos Shakespeare: Theatrical Space versus Cinematographic Space in the Adaptations of Hamlet and Henry V by Kenneth Branagh.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter aims to analyse the notion of adaptation as a double process of reinterpretation and recreation (Hutcheon, 2013, p.8), and suggests that this is unique when the literary source is a theatre script; moreover, when such text has been written in a particular linguistic style to be performed on a specific stage within a historical and cultural context that is far more than four centuries from the present. The author uses two film adaptations of plays by William Shakespeare – Henry V (1989) and Hamlet (1996) – from the British director Kenneth Branagh, as study cases. She pays special attention to the use of space, an element that adds complexity to the work of a film director because Shakespearean plays have almost no stage directions or indications of place that guide and frame the setting of scenes. Even though Peter Brook states that “the absence of scenery in the Elizabethan theatre was one of its greatest freedoms” (Brook, 1996, p. 86), it is also true that this technical aspect transforms the job of the director into a challenge of creative reinterpretation that goes beyond the mere filming of a determined theatrical performance, but aims to represent a certain notion of space precisely by filling the Shakespearean undetermined and empty space with images and symbols.
By comparing specific scenes from the plays already mentioned with Branagh’s film versions, this study suggests that a “good” adaptation of Shakespeare to film – that which is a mirror of the human conflicts proposed by the dramatist – will result not only from its fidelity to the text, but from its understanding of Shakespearean spatial poetics; that is to say, from the possibility that the adapted work can “sing, live and breathe in an empty space” (Brook, 1988, p. 191), which the director-author will configure according to his own interpretation of the dramatic plot.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationTelling and Re-telling Stories
Subtitle of host publication Studies on Literary Adaptation to Film.
EditorsPaula Baldwin Lind
Place of PublicationNewcastle-Upon-Tyne (England).
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)978-1-4438-8881-3
StatePublished - 29 Jun 2016


  • Shakespeare
  • Film adaptation
  • Kenneth Branagh
  • Theatrical space
  • Cinematographic space


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