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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: August ::
London Independent on Bardcore Porn
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2028  Wednesday, 22 August 2001

From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Aug 2001 08:15:24 -0400
Subject:        London Independent on Bardcore Porn

http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=89919

22 August 2001 13:04 GMT+1
 Independent

Bardcore

Mr William Shakespeare's dramatic and lewd adventures in ye American
pornography industry.  (Unsuitable for readers of tender years)

Andrew Hearst

22 August 2001

Early in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon squeezes magic love juice on
to the eyelids of a sleeping Titania. When Titania wakes up, the juice
makes her fall madly in love with the first creature she encounters:
Bottom, the weaver, who has been transformed into an ass. Because
Shakespeare's text does not provide an explicit answer, directors who
adapt the play often ask themselves what happens next: does Titania have
sex with Bottom?

When the director Stuart Canterbury was developing his recent film
adaptation, he had no trouble deciding what to do about the
Titania-Bottom sex question - they would have sex; lots of it. And
Canterbury didn't stop there. Demetrius and Helena would have sex, too.
So would Titania and Oberon. So would Lysander and Hermia. And, in an
opening scene nowhere to be found in Shakespeare's text, so would five
writhing female fairies overseen by a feather-waving Titania.

The film in question is A Midsummer Night's Cream - tag-line: "What
(Horny) Fools These Mortals Be!" - and it's merely one recent example of
a growing genre of Shakespeare adaptation: Shakespeare porn. Nominated
for 10 2001 Adult Video News Awards, including a best-actress nomination
for the porn legend Nina Hartley as Titania, Canterbury's film joins
Romeo & Julian (1993), Hamlet: for the love of Ophelia (1996), The
Taming of the Screw (1997) and dozens of other works in this expanding
canon.

Shakespeare scholars of a more traditional sort might dismiss these
X-rated adaptations as nothing more than video-store giggle fodder. But
Richard Burt, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts
Amherst, sees a lot more going on here. In his book Unspeakable
ShaXXXspeares: Queer Theory and American Kiddie Culture (St Martin's,
1998) and in a number of articles he has published in recent years, Burt
argues that such porn adaptations, along with other "dumbed-down"
versions of Shakespeare, can provide insights into not just the plays
but also the larger workings of American culture in the post-Cold War
world. He says a prime motivating force behind these unorthodox
renditions is "a new form of cultural imperialism in which Shakespeare
is regarded as a native export, as if the United States could claim
anything as its own.

"If you're going to think about Shakespeare adaptations, which is
something that I think about," says Burt, "then why not Shakespeare
porn? It's one kind of adaptation. It's a phenomenon, it's out there,
it's part of the culture, so why not study it?" Burt's project is made
easier by his being an avid porn fan. His website -
www.naughtyprofessor.com - features a page called "Porn Stars I Have
Known" and photos of himself with the actress Nina Hartley and the
pro-porn feminist Annie Sprinkle. He's written a screenplay called Shrew
You!, which, he says, is the world's first lesbian adaptation of The
Taming of the Shrew.

And he's not the only scholar studying Shakespeare porn: the conference
in April of the Shakespeare Association of America, in Miami, featured a
seminar entitled "Pornographic Shakespeare". Though most of the
participants focused on bawdy elements of the original plays, David
Linton, a professor of communication arts and the head of the humanities
division at Marymount Manhattan College, presented a paper about A
Midsummer Night's Cream and a recent gay-porn version of the same play.

Shakespeare porn varies in production quality and in faithfulness to the
text. Many of the higher-budget productions seem to be using Shakespeare
partly as bait for the female and couples markets. "By adding
Shakespeare to anything," says Nina Hartley, who appeared in the porn
director Paul Thomas's Romeo and Juliet (1987), "you automatically class
it up. Certainly it helps to get you on to cable."

A lot of the lower-budget productions use the plays as little more than
skeletons on which to hang the flesh of the requisite sex scenes.
According to Burt, the earliest-known example of Shakespeare porn is The
Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet, a 1968 soft-core film. Not long
after, Roman Polanski directed a version of Macbeth that was produced by
Playboy and featured topless witches and a naked, sleepwalking Lady
Macbeth, played by Francesca Annis. A Midsummer Night's Cream is
apparently the first porn film to take much of its script from
Shakespeare's text.  Other films, such as The Taming of the Screw,
contain virtually none of the Bard's language. Still others, such as
Tromeo and Juliet (1996) - in which Tromeo masturbates to an interactive
porn CD-rom called "As You Lick It" and Juliet calls 1-900-FUL-STAF for
phone sex - use the plays as jumping-off points. (Burt acknowledges the
"relative tastelessness and absence of formal complexity" of most of
these so-called Shakesploitations.)

The fast-forward button has long been a handy tool for porn viewers, but
Burt is perhaps the first person in history to fast-forward through the
sex scenes to get to the dialogue. He did that when treating an
interviewer to his analyses of A Midsummer Night's Cream and The Taming
of the Screw - a contemporary retelling of the play in which the head of
a law firm offers his employee Pete (aka Petruchio) a house in Bel Air,
partnership in the firm and $100,000 if Pete will marry his "bitch" of a
daughter, Kate. Though The Taming of the Screw is badly shot, horribly
acted and relentlessly misogynous, Burt says he finds it more
interesting than the comparatively sophisticated A Midsummer Night's
Cream, partly because in Taming "the sex and the plot are relatively
well integrated".  (But A Midsummer Night's Cream is hardly bereft of
interpretative 

 

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