Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mystery Shakespearean Derivatives, Part I

“Melancholy Brain.” By Gordon Bressack and Patrick M. Verrone. Perf. Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulse. Dir. Charles Visser. Pinky and the Brain. Vol. 3, disc 2. The WB Television Network. 7 February 1998. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2007.

Today, the Shakespeare and Film class will be presented with three Shakespearean Derivatives. According to Kenneth Rothwell (in A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), there are seven kinds of Shakespearean Derivatives (Rothwell 209-10):
  1. Recontextualization
  2. Mirror movie
  3. Musicals, ballets, and operas
  4. Revues (using biography and other genres)
  5. Parasitical
  6. Animations
  7. Documentaries and Educational Films
[There are also four types of Shakespearean Adaptations in addition to the Seven Derivatives, but we’ll forgo those for the present.]

Rothwell’s list is an extremely useful one—and it really becomes interesting when we consider the ways in which these seven overlap and combine. For example, Kiss me, Kate fits and does not fit into category iii—it’s a musical. But it’s also a mirror movie—a movie in which the characters are putting on a Shakespeare play. It might even count as a recontextualization, too!

“What,” I wonder aloud, “will the students make of today’s mysteries?”

One of them will be a cartoon short (I’m always fond of cartoon shorts before feature presentations, though I don’t always have time to provide one in class). It’s thanks to a student in the class that I’m aware of it at all. I’m very grateful, but I’m surprised that I didn’t know about it: I’ve been a Pinky and the Brain fanatic since before they were spun off from The Animaniacs . . . but that’s another issue.

The “Melancholy Brain” episode involves a plot to take over the world . . . well, I suppose it would, wouldn’t it? . . . but the difference is that, this time, it’s a Hamlet-based plot to take over the world!

I can’t say any more now, but I’m intrigued by just how many Shakespearean Derivative categories the episode fits! It fits vi, clearly. But it may also fit iii (there’s a musical), ii (there’s a play within the play within the plot to take over the world), vii (oh, of course there’s educational value here!), i, v, and iv!

Whatever other derivatives we may watch today (and however successful they may prove), I’m pleased to present “Melancholy Brain.” Great thanks to you, student, for bringing it to my attention! I feel duty bound to bring it to the attention of as many other as I can. Spread the Hamlet-related love!

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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