Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Dawn of Shakespearean Cinema

King John. Dir. William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson and Walter Pfeffer Dando. Perf. Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Dora Senior, F. M. Paget, and James Fisher. British Mutoscope and Biograph Company. 1899. DVD. Image Entertainment, 2000.

What Shakespeare play would you guess the earliest filmmakers would think to put on film? Perhaps a comprehensible tragedy like Romeo and Juliet? Or a relatively-straightforward comedy like Midsummer Night's Dream?

Well, I won't keep you in suspense. It was King John. It's the deathbed scene. It lasts about a minute and a half. It's not terribly interesting. But it is the earliest extant extract of Shakespeare on film—it was made in 1899:  a hundred and nine years ago!—and that makes it, of necessary, both significant and fascinating! Here it is, in its entirety:

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

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.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

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