What is most problematic about the determination of fidelity a given adaptation achieves is not any part of its adaptive process as applied to that character and situation, but rather the adaptation’s source, particularly when the author of that source has attained a historical prominence like that of William Shakespeare or Jane Austen.  While these prominent figures were defined in their own times, it is their definitions in the present that informs the evaluation of their adapted works; it is the ideas of these authors that these works “relentlessly seek to traverse, inhabit and, ultimately, displace” (Lehmann 327). André Bazin believed that the world is “moving to a reign of adaptation” in which the “very notion of the author himself” is in jeopardy (62).  Evelyn Tribble’s “When Every Noise Appalls Me” examines Akira Kurosawa’s creation of a “peculiarly Japanese soundscape” in Throne of Blood (1957) as response to and revision of Shakespeare; Courtney Lehmann’s “Out Damned Scot” considers the function of setting as citation in multiple Macbeth adaptations; and Hilary Schlor’s “Emma, Interrupted” explores voice and subjective expression in Douglas McGrath’s Emma (1996).  These pieces will show how adaptations demonstrate a more profound and subtle fidelity to their source texts than simple iteration of “character and situation” as well as how prominent authors serve as obstacles to this end (Bazin 60).

Shakespeare used sound to perform such straightforward chores as signaling the beginning and end of his plays to more complex tasks as the characterization of a Macbeth who has become isolated—”not only from the other characters, but also from the the audience”—that the “‘Night-shrieke’” had no effect on him (Tribble 303).  Sound was used to expand the action on the stage into the unseen space surrounding the stage, particularly during battle scenes, and it was often synthesized with verbal and visual elements to deepen its effect.  The verbal might mimic the sound heard off stage—“‘A Drumme, a Drumme: / Macbeth doth come,’” and characters might appear on stage with torches to imply a severe darkness that would serve to intensify the perception of silence.  Kurosawa continued Shakespeare’s experimentation in his own implementation of sound; he understood that “sound is not simply the sound made by an object, but the sound meant by an object” (304).  He also understood the natural desire in his audience to identify, as quickly as possible, the source of any sound, and in Throne of Blood, he “repeatedly protracts the process of seeking the source of the sound” to build suspense or to foreshadow, setting “the stage for the later, horrific discovery of its source” (305, 307).  Kurosawa used sound to further define and contrast his interior and exterior spaces.

In other adaptations of Macbeth, interior and exterior spaces are used citationally to locate the particular work in an intended context.  In Michael Bognadov’s Macbeth (1998), the “devastated wasteland” exterior and the “abject interiors” help to locate the film historically relative to the evolution of capitalism and its ultimate rejection of democracy (Lehmann 315).  Stuart Canterbury’s adult film In the Flesh (1998) more concretely establishes Shakespeare’s original as a noir western through its extension of jouissance to explicit sexual expression and transgression, and it also locates itself relative to capitalism; however this participation in genre and relation to capitalism is extended to the logistics of filming.  The location of filming, Budapest, allows for the production to both fully control the flow of funds and utilize less educated women who are less aware of the health risks—literalizing “the trope of the femme fatale,” the desire for whom propels “her to destruction” (320).  Macbeth: The Comedy (2001) considers space differently, liberating “Shakespeare’s metaphor-laden language from the landscape of hidden meaning, [and] recreating it within the topos of ‘plain English’” thus distancing the work from its source’s creator as a defining attribute (326).  

A similar distancing can be seen in adaptations of Jane Austen’s works, though with the intent of staying faithful to her by “way of saving Austen from her less felicitous or, as the adapters seem to feel, less-than-Austenian tendencies” (Galperin 352).  McGrath, while missing much of what Galperin finds compelling about Emma, uses Austen’s narratorial style to explore the voice and subjective expression in film.  Putting the audience’s immersion at risk, McGrath utilizes voice-over commentary when the narrator speaks directly to the audience at the film’s beginning and end to shape audience expectations.  McGrath also separates voice from speaker, utilizing their voices to “transition from one scene to another” (Schor 337). As well, he creates layers to Emma’s voice by a “doubling of soliloquy” during which Emma is heard interrupting her own disembodied voice or merging with it in prayer (342).  By letting individual characters participate in the narration of the film, McGrath the nature of narration specific to the medium of film.


Works Cited

Andrew, Dudley.  “Adaptation.” Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan.  Routledge, 2012, pp. 65-73.

Bazin, André.  “Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest.”  Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan.  Routledge, 2012, pp. 57-64.

Galperin, William.  “Adapting Jane Austen The Surprising Fidelity of Clueless.”  Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan.  Routledge, 2012, pp. 351-361.

Lehmann, Courtney.  “Out Damned Scot Dislocating Macbeth in Transnational Film and Media Culture.”  Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan.  Routledge, 2012, pp. 310-328.

Schor, Hilary.  “Emma, Interrupted Speaking Jane Austen in Fiction and Film.”  Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan.  Routledge, 2012, pp. 329-350.

Tribble, Evelyn.  “When Every Noise Appalls Me Sound and Fear in Macbeth and Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.”  Film and Literature An Introduction and Reader, 2nd ed, by Timothy Corrigan.  Routledge, 2012, pp. 297-309.