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Introducing Shakespeare: The incipit in Orson Welles’s adaptations

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Macbeth, 1948, Othello, 1950, and Chimes at Midnight, 1965) recreated an actualized poetic language that, through symbolic writing, retains the foundations of Shakespeare’s art. Although made at very different stages of his career and exhibiting diverse cinematic styles, Welles’s filmic adaptations of Shakespeare‐s plays share a peculiarity with many of his other works: an engaging incipit that sets the movie’s tone and mood in a uniquely powerful and assertive fashion, oftentimes deviating from the standard conventions of narration. From Citizen Kane (1941) to Touch of Evil (1958), Mr. Arkadin (1955) to The Trial (1962), Welles could have written an encyclopaedia about the opening sequences in the cinema. This essay closely examines these brief segments of film, and argues that they can provide a great deal of information on Welles’s strategies in adapting the ‘playhouse documents’ that we know as the works of William Shakespeare.]]>

Keywords: Incipit; Macbeth; Midnight Chimes; Opening Sequence; Orson Welles; Othello

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-05-01

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  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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