The Fool – from text to screen.
The concept of a fool in Shakespearean plays is nearly as popular as the very figure of a fool used to be in Middle Ages at royal courts and some private households of aristocrats. The characters that could be described as fools appear in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (Feste) and As You Like It (Touchstone). And there is of course the most famous of the fools, named simply The Fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear – the one with reference to whom this essay is created. A fool, according to Encyclopædia Britannica was a person, often retarded, handicapped, dwarfed or mad, kept on court for luck and amusement of his patron. Due to his questionable mental abilities he was given license to mock persons of nobility, even the king himself. The origins of his function are sought for in the tribal scapegoat, who served as a sacrifice alternative for the king. Probably for that reason he was endowed with some attributes prescribed to a king such as a bauble (mock scepter) and a motley coat. His entertaining function was marked by other attributes in his possession such as a coxcomb, bells and a horny or ass-eared hood. All those gadgets, apart from arousing amusement, served one more purpose – they made a jester stand out from all the other individuals. Even though some critics tend to perceive the Fool in King Lear as a character crucial to understanding of the play and the significance of particular characters, others are more inclined to categorize him as one of the minor characters. At some stage of King Lear’s development the figure of the Fool was even altogether removed from the play, which may constitute some indication of how different were the attitudes towards the importance of his presence in the play within the course of time. As far as transposition of the text of the play into the film script is concerned, it is particularly worth noticing that cinematic space juxtaposed to theatrical space shows some vital dissimilarities, among which are different attitude of a producer towards presumable reactions of the audience, the supremacy of the camera’s angle over spectator’s inclination to see what takes their fancy and the possibility of creating more articulate spatial setting. Also G. Wilson Knight considers the screening of any play an outstandingly challenging quest and warns against two main failures that may occur in the production. The first one may be described as mechanical failure, when the director is trying to put the main emphasis on the melodrama, into which the play is turned, while the second one is described by the author as ‘the would-be ‘symbolical’ production’, in which some significant enigmatic and sometimes supernatural values are blurred or not displayed at all. He reports to have heard Juliet’s potion speech, which he found, by the cause of a thunder introduced arbitrarily by the scriptwriter, utterly disturbed and demolished. He expressed a conviction, that Shakespeare would have arranged a thunder in that place, if that had been what he had intended to. Knight argues also that ‘the sounds – words and additional effects – are (..) given’ and all that a director or a screenwriter or particular actors are expected to do is to pour life into them and arrange a proper setting for them. So much for the possible area of scrutiny as far as some comparison between the text and the screen versions is put to question. Of course some temporal or verbal ellipses are inevitable as they are undeniably a part of producer’s license, as well as a kind of a landmark in every screen production, though the vital parts of the play should not be omitted in order to preserve the original character of the artwork. Having still some features of the analysed productions left to scrutinize, the focus may be put on the extratextual and non-verbal factors such as the costumes, the age of the actors playing Fools, their sex, the overall attitude towards the outer world as well as their demeanour...
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