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'Orgies of Gesticulation'?: Pedigree and Performance Codes in Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson's and Ruggero Ruggeri's Silent Films of 'Hamlet'.

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JournalShakespeare
DatePublished - Jun 2006
Issue number1
Volume2
Number of pages22
Pages (from-to)24-46
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This paper examines two silent feature films of Hamlet—one English, one Italian. Hepworth and Plumb's film starring Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson was made in 1913 for Gaumont. Rodolfi's film starring Ruggero Ruggeri was made in 1917 for Rodolfi-Film. Both actors had already been celebrated for their stage Hamlets and the films are inscribed in markedly different ways with the legacy of those earlier stage productions. As part of considering this legacy, I examine the relationship of each actor to the Shakespearean words necessarily excised from the filmic performance and of each to a set of inherited pantomimic performance codes. The English film is more widely known, exhibited, and discussed than the Italian film. In this paper I suggest that its network of extra-textual associations (theatrical, English socially prestigious) may have proved as beguiling as its particular filmic attributes. I use a comparison of the divergent critical fates of these films as the spur to discussing the marketing, profile, and trends of critical reception for material that equivocates tellingly about its intended market and medium allegiances.

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