Shakespeare Bulletin (4)
Elsewhere, the film's visuals can contradict the playtext. Puck is instructed that he will
recognize Demetrius "By the Athenian garments he hath on" (2.1.264), but Puck then
mistakes Lysander for Demetrius even though he's taken all of his Monte Athena clothing
off. Add to all this--or, rather, subtract from it all--the passages that focus on women's
concerns and the ways in which male authority is exercised. What results and remains is a
filmic text that in practice distances itself as much as possible from Shakespeare's play, even
as Shakespeare's name is reverentially invoked in the official title of the film. Kenneth
Rothwell's recent defense of the film focuses on how "Hoffman and Kline re-envisioned
Bottom for their movie," suggesting that their collaborative reworking of materials should be
compared with the practices of Shakespeare and Fletcher: "If their choices were not textbound,
they were at least trans-textual in drawing on the ranges of possibility" that
Shakespeare and others exploited (Rothwell, "'[Trans] Textuality'"). He presents us with
something of a false distinction when he argues that his "view can be spun as either heretical
or liberating," because the impulses and effects of breaking away from a text can themselves
be dreadfully orthodox and restrictive. One should also consider whether the film itself
seems substantially heretical or liberating: Hoffman's Dream might have been both a truly
provocative work and a richer Shakespeare film had it been less defensive toward its source
text and less deferential toward its intended audiences.
Hoffman's practice can be instructively contrasted with Julie Taymor's dialogue and debate
with patriarchy in Titus, her film version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (see also
Lehmann 273-77). Far from shrinking away from the play's presentation of arbitrary rule,
blind adherence to patrilineal succession, cultural projection of savagery onto the Other, and
narrow sexual (as well as racial) prejudice, Taymor accepts the playtext's invitation to
confront and to contemplate such contradictions--and foundations--at work in supposed
civilization. Richard Burt has criticized Taymor's film for "toning down the violence and
making it a generational issue" (309), thereby missing the connection between violence and
patriarchal systems that Taymor discovers in the play. In this case, genuine analysis of such
dynamics rather than their perpetuation is judged tantamount to suppression or elision. The
differences between Taymor's approach and that of Hoffman (and, often, Branagh) can call
the validity of such an equation into some dispute. In addition, Christine Edzard's refiguring
of Noble's RSC Dream in film, featuring an all-children cast, demonstrates how visual and
conceptual echoes can lead to new engagements with both the text and its cultural
associations (and baggage), rather than to revisitations of the familiar. In both these cases,
returning to the playtext has revitalized the filmic enterprise and experience. In the case of
Hoffman's A Midsummer Night's Dream, returning to the play helps us to identify the
anxieties that Hoffman tries to assuage and also those, from our own cultural moment, that
he imposes upon Shakespeare's playtexts.
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STEPHEN M. BUHLER
University of Nebraska-Lincoln