By Dian Henderson
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Although in his assessment no silent films constitute “good Shakespeare” (because all lack the essential verbal power of the playtexts), Ball is an astute formalist reader, attuned to what makes exciting visual drama and interested in a complex taxonomy of adaptation strategies. His misreading thus seems less a matter of clumsiness than a symptom of the exceptionalist script that governs the study. In aesthetic terms, Le Roi Lear plays a transitional role in Ball’s story of silent Shakespeare, marking the exhaustion of “primitive,” stage-based adaptations and film d’art projects, and pointing towards a future “which led more and more to contemporary subjects and less and less to the conventions of theater” (Ball 1968: 131).
Indicating that it is possible, at least in fiction, to speak from a position which is not that of a full, unified, gendered subject” (1985: 180). In Hal’s, the ambiguity of whether or not he is still playing (to use a term far more appropriate to what is happening here than “acting”), and hence of who the “I” is in “I do, I will” effects a dispersal of the princely persona at exactly the moment when the modern Hal demands, and usually gets, coherence and closure. To put it another way, the modern theatre’s tradition of reducing the multiple possibilities of this line to confessional frankness reflects its determination to arrest what, after Derrida, might be called its “iterability” (or, after Hall’s Pinter, its potential for piss-taking): radically uncertain of who it is that speaks, of how it is received, and of whether its import is sincere, ironic, mischievous or a combination of some or all of these, it offers itself as an utterance that both inhabits and generates “contexts without any center of absolute anchoring” (Derrida 1982: 320).
3 In the passage quoted at the beginning of this essay, for example, Ball navigates a number of such scripts: in particular the idea of film as light recreation, a diversion for buffs, not matter for real scholarship. ”) addressed “To the Reader” rather than to lovers of motion pictures, and anchored by a citation (The Taming of the Shrew) (1968: 15). Then he works through the anti-film bias in an extended rhetorical play on the word “diversion” that reveals both the wit and seriousness of the scholarly mind at work in this study.