The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0012 Tuesday, 11 January 2011
From: Charles Weinstein <
Date: December 24, 2010 9:25:32 AM EST
Subject: Kenneth Rothwell
One cannot shield a dubious statement from rejoinders by placing it in a memorial notice. A statement
implying that the intellectual bona fides of Shakespeare on Film are no longer questioned is much more
Long Editor's Note:
On Thursday, 11 November 2010 (SHK 21.0432), I announced the death of my friend Ken Rothwell, who died on
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:
Mike Jensen provided a link to Ken's obituary in the online Burlington Free Press:
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
On Thursday, 18 November 2010(SHK 21.0455), Charles Weinstein <
>Ken [Rothwell] is probably best known for his work incorporating
>Shakespeare on film into his teaching and scholarship. At that
>time, many considered the using of such practices as a 'dumbing
>down' of Shakespeare."
Some still do.
I responded (SHK 21.0456),
I had my differences with some of Ken Rothwell's beliefs, so to maintain
civility I simply did not bring them up and stuck instead to subjects we
both loved: Shakespeare, Shakespeare in performance, and Shakespeare in
performance on film.
For someone to use a tribute I was making to a scholar for whom I had
the greatest respect, a scholar who significantly changed the way that
most of us thought about Shakespeare in performance and changed the way
we used performance in our classrooms, a man I loved for his kindness
and gentleness and enthusiasm, for someone to use that tribute to make a
snide and hurtful remark borders on the inexcusable.
Fortunately, such a display of ignorance can in no way tarnish the
contributions this wonderful man made to Shakespeare studies. Ken
Rothwell will be remembered much longer than his opponent "whose frown,
/ And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command" will be reduced to the
endless sands of nothingness and the "hand that mocked them, and the
heart that fed" will be moved only by the ceaseless winds of time and
[ . . . ]
This message is Charles Weinstein's response to me.
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
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