Appropriation, Intermediality, and the Problem of History.

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


Several scholars of adaptation studies have touched on the relationship between historical events and adaptation, or the appropriation of history in the creation of new works (Brater 2017, Rees 2017, Raw and Tutan 2013, Sanders 2006). In a recent article on the contemporary history play for Studies in Theatre and Performance, Rebecca Benzie and I drew attention to the connections between historical drama and adaptation, but nevertheless drew a distinction between the two, based on what Thomas Leitch has called the ‘deliberate invitation’ of the text in question to be read as an adaptation (Leitch 2012). However, in this paper I’d like to return to the problem of identifying the difference between the intermedial practices of adaptation and those of the contemporary history play. History – the name that we give to our attempts to order and make sense of the overwhelming chaos of the past – is, on one level, quite different from a novel or a film as a source text for stage adaptation. It consists of a patchwork of sources, their validity constantly open to question, their significance continually argued over, rather than being a single work of fiction. On another level, history is embedded in any work of fiction, and the representation of that time and place in the past in a theatre adaptation will inevitably draw on sources and knowledge from outside that work of fiction. So, in what senses can we talk about appropriating history, when history itself is already an appropriation? And cannot the same claim be made of fictional texts, that their own appropriative histories effectively have no end?
To address these paradoxes, this paper uses examples drawn from the early work of Caryl Churchill, as well as more recent plays including James Graham’s Best of Enemies (2021).
Period8 Dec 2023
Event titleAdaptation, Appropriation, Translation: Theatre and Drama Network Conference 2023
Event typeConference
LocationIstanbul, TurkeyShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational