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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: November ::
Kenneth Rothwell
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0432  Thursday, 11 November 2010

From:         Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:         Thursday, November 11, 2010
Subject:      Kenneth Rothwell

I just learned from Mike Jensen of Ken Rothwell's death on Monday, November 8, 2010, 
in Burlington, Vermont.

Ken was major figure in Shakespeare studies, who helped to change the manner in 
which Shakespeare was taught, studied, and contemplated. 

At the beginning of my late-blooming scholarly career, Ken paid me one of the nicest 
professional compliments I have ever received. At the 1986 Annual Meeting of the 
Shakespeare Association of America in Montreal, Quebec, Ken audited Herb Coursen's 
filmed _Lear_ seminar in which I presented a paper, "Two _Lears_ for Television: An 
Exploration of Televisual Strategies" (_Literature/Film Quarterly_ 14.4 (1986): 179-86) that was the 
theoretical basis of my dissertation. Comparing the 1982 _King Lear_ (directed by 
Jonathan Miller for the BBC Television Shakespeare Plays) with the 1984 _Laurence 
Olivier's KING LEAR_ (directed by Michael Elliott for Granada Television), I noted 
that "Having these two recent productions of the same play to compare and contrast 
provides us with a valuable opportunity to examine some of the choices that the 
directors of each production made in 'translating' _King Lear_ to television." Using 
Andre Bazin's distinction between directors "who put their faith in the image 
[montage techniques] and those who put their faith in reality [depth-of-field 
techniques]" (_Qu'est-ce que le cinema?_ 24), I argued that Miller's depth-of-field 
approach, using a relatively static camera and emphasizing actors performing in 
ensemble, was "more effective" for realizing Shakespeare to television than was 
Elliott's more "cinematic" approach, featuring editing and visual equivalents and 
highlighting individual performance (especially Laurence Olivier's) with closely 
framed one-shots and rapid cutting that accentuated the facial expressions of the 
actors. I concluded that "Miller's televisual strategies enable viewers to watch 
Shakespeare on television in a manner that is similar to the theatrical experience. 
. . . Miller's style accomplishes this through a greater, uninterrupted, continuity 
of dramatic space and time; a more active relationship between the spectator and the 
object; more personal choice about where and how to direct one's attention; and a 
greater weight given to the spoken word." After the seminar, Ken approached me and 
said "What a terrific idea; I wish that I had thought of it." If anyone is 
interested, you can find an early draft of my paper in the SHAKSPER archives: 
http://www.shaksper.net/archives/files/twolears.for_tv.html .

Mike Jensen provided a link to Ken's obituary in the online Burlington Free Press: 

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/burlingtonfreepress/obituary.aspx?n=kenneth-
sprague-rothwell&pid=146539964

From that obituary, I have pieced together this information about Ken.

Kenneth Sprague Rothwell, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of 
Vermont, passed away on Monday, November 8, 2010. For much of the past year, he had 
been a resident of Burlington Rehabilitation Hospital. Ken was born in Bay Shore, 
N.Y. (in Suffolk County) on May 26, 1921, and grew up in New York City; Shanghai, 
China; and San Antonio, Texas. He completed high school in Bay Shore and attended 
Rutgers University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning an 
M.A. and Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. 
During World War II, he served in the 159th Infantry. He held full-time appointments 
at the Universities of Rochester, Cincinnati, Kansas, and went to the University of 
Vermont as department chair in 1970. 

Ken is probably best known for his work incorporating Shakespeare on film into his 
teaching and scholarship. At that time, many consider the using of such practices as 
a "dumbing down" of Shakespeare. He co-founded and co-edited with Bernice W. Kliman 
_The Shakespeare on Film Newsletter_ (1976), and with Annabelle Meltzer he compiled 
_Shakespeare on Screen: An International Filmography and Videography_ (1990). In 
1999, his _A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television_ 
(Cambridge University Press; 2nd ed., 2004), was published to scholarly acclaim. 
When _The Shakespeare on Film Newsletter_ was incorporated into _ Shakespeare 
Bulletin_, he became a contributing editor. In 2000 at 79, he presented the plenary 
lecture at the International Conference on Shakespeare Movies at the University of 
Malaga, Spain. He published widely in professional journals (_Shakespeare Survey_, 
_Shakespeare Quarterly_, _Comparative Drama_, _Cineaste_), and presented many papers 
at national and regional meetings. He edited _The Merchant of Venice_ (2008) and 
_King Lear_ (2010). 

For further information, consult his obituary at 
http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/burlingtonfreepress/obituary.aspx?n=kenneth-
sprague-rothwell&pid=146539964


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