Radical potentiality and institutional closure : Shakespeare in film and television
Whereas the BBC TV Shakespeare series could be regarded as characteristic expression of the cultural policies of the producing corporation, cinematic reproduction of Shakespeare constitutes at best a marginal dimension of film history. The primary function of cinema as a cultural industry in a bourgeois economy is to reproduce and naturalise dominant ideologies; and by contrast with the theatre, the plays of Shakespeare seem to have offered few opportunities for the prosecution of that function. The relation between ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘film’ is very much that suggested in our Introduction to Part II (p.132): the exchange of cultural authority between institutions in a reciprocal process. The repute of cinema art and of the film industry can be enhanced by their capacity to incorporate Shakespeare; the institution of Shakespeare itself benefits from that transaction by a conformation of its persistent universality. Shakespeare films exist on that important but peripheral fringe of cinematic production, where the values of high art can be held to justify or compensate for the lack of commercial success (they are probably screened more often and witnessed by more spectators in the form of 16mm prints hired by institutions of education than in the commercial cinemas), and they can scarcely be regarded as central to the mainstream practice and development of the cinema.