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2023 | Book

Adaptation Before Cinema

Literary and Visual Convergence from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century


About this book

Adaptation Before Cinema highlights a range of pre-cinematic media forms, including theater, novelization, painting and illustration, transmedia art, children’s media, and other literary and visual culture. The book expands the primary scholarly audience of adaptation studies from film and media scholars to literary scholars and cultural critics working across a range of historical periods, genres, forms, and media. In doing so, it underscores the creative diversity of cultural adaptation practiced before cinema came to dominate the critical conversation on adaptation. Collectively, the chapters construct critical bridges between literary history and contemporary media studies, foregrounding diverse practices of adaptation and providing a platform for innovative critical approaches to adaptation, appropriation, or transmedia storytelling popular from the Middle Ages through the invention of cinema. At the same time, they illustrate how these forms of adaptation not only influenced the cinematic adaptation industry of the twentieth century but also continue to inform adaptation practices in the twenty-first century transmedia landscape. Written by scholars with expertise in historical, literary, and cultural scholarship ranging from the medieval period through the nineteenth century, the chapters use discourses developed in contemporary adaptation studies to shed new lights on their respective historical fields, authors, and art forms.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction: Adaptation’s Past, Adaptation’s Future
This chapter situates Adaptation Before Cinema as a historical intervention into adaptation studies, making the case that an over-reliance on film adaptation has left the field historically myopic. Decentering film opens multiple directions for adaptation studies past, present, and future and brings new voices and approaches into the critical conversation. The editors of the collection trace the ways in which adaptation studies can be enriched by rethinking the function of adaptation, by not only acknowledging but also exploring adaptation as a transhistorical, global phenomenon that also crosses forms, media, and genres. Jellenik and Szwydky argue that scholars of literature and culture working in historical fields that predate the twentieth century are uniquely positioned to identify common points of interest with adaptation studies and its standard theoretical and critical approaches, demonstrating to contemporary media theorists how much twentieth- and twenty-first-century media forms and industry practices continue to be influenced not only by historical literary sources but also by early adaptation practices that predate film and other contemporary media. Attention to those older adaptations and adaptation practices can yield creative and productive critical approaches that can be applied across contemporary media adaptation studies. As Jellenik and Szwydky argue, adaptations and other forms of extension and transmediation have always driven literature, theater, art, and popular culture, as well as shaped the construction and reception histories of specific texts. These connections and broader stakes for the study of literature and culture crystallize when we excavate and analyze forms of adaptation and transmedia that drove storytelling before the twentieth century.
Glenn Jellenik, Lissette Lopez Szwydky

Reframing Adaptation’s Potential, Historically

Chapter 2. A Classical Drama of Human Bondage: Recurrent Replications of Supplication, Appeals, and Social Justice Activism from Antiquity Through the Present
Cast as an Aristotelean classical drama, this chapter features supplicatory images as recurrent replications from antiquity to the present. Viewed as “single frozen moments for visual and spatial interpretation” (Kamila Elliott), transhistorical adaptations of classical suppliants across time reflect how stories are “retold in different ways in new material and cultural environments; [and] like genes, they adapt to those new environments by virtue of mutation in their ‘offspring’ or their adaptations” (Linda Hutcheon). Offspringing from classical tableaux of supplication, Josiah Wedgwood created his influential eighteenth-century pleading slave medallion (“Am I not a man and a brother?”) for the British Antislavery Movement. This “appealing” image appeared on varied artifacts (cameos, print matter, fabrics, etc.) and was adapted to visualize African slavery, adult and child labor exploitation, the patriarchal oppression of women, and more, throughout the nineteenth century. By tracing this “broader genealogy and legacy” (Kate Newell) of visual storytelling via adapted supplicatory iconographies across time, this analysis demonstrates their important socio-historic role in provoking public sentiment and inspiring social justice activism from antiquity to our contemporary turning points wherein kneeling has been adapted from supplicatory to emancipatory by pioneering civil rights activists and myriad Black Lives Matter advocates across the globe.
Mary-Antoinette Smith
Chapter 3. Adaptation as the Art Form of Democracy: Romanticism and the Rise of Novelization
Deborah Cartmell’s “100+ Years of Adaptations, or Adaptation as the Art Form of Democracy” considers film adaptation’s capacity as a popularization of ideas. This chapter focuses on Romantic-period writers adapting political philosophy for a popular audience and carries Cartmell’s claim back to the Enlightenment-flowering of modern democracy. That is, adaptation as popularization long predates the advent of film. In the 1790s, radical writers such as William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft argued for democratic reforms. They also experimented with adaptation’s capacity to deliver democratic ideas to a democratized reading audience. Godwin and Wollstonecraft each novelized their philosophical texts. Godwin adapted Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) into Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), and Wollstonecraft adapted The Rights of Woman (1792) into Maria: Or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798). In both cases, the author reworks a previously published philosophical tract, leveraging an enormously popular literary genre to deliver revolutionary concepts to an audience that might otherwise not receive them. Despite being adaptations, as well as part of the cultural landscape since the late eighteenth century, not much attention has been paid to novelizations in adaptation studies (Linda Hutcheon, Kate Newell, and Jan Baetens are exceptions). This chapter locates novelization as an early form of democratic adaptation.
Glenn Jellenik
Chapter 4. Poetry After Descartes: Henry More’s Adaptive Poetics
One of the earliest responses in England to Cartesian metaphysics, Henry More’s philosophical poem A Platonick Song of the Soul (1642, 1647) has often been criticized for its generic hybridity and its unruly use of sources. In this essay, I argue that recent developments in adaptation studies reveal the generative possibilities inherent in More’s adaptive praxis. In particular, More’s addition of scientific diagrams, extensive notes, and a glossary in the second edition of the poem not only allows us to consider the role of images and paratext in adaptation but also revision itself as a form of adaptation. While adaptation studies has focused more on intertextuality and intermediality rather than genre, the idiosyncrasies of More’s text invite larger questions about the interrelationship between genres, particularly in moments of cultural rupture. This essay aims to define new avenues of inquiry no longer delimited by genre to better understand adaptation as a process or mode of thought that resonates within a wider range of intellectual and creative endeavors.
Melissa Caldwell
Chapter 5. History and/as Adaptation: MacBeth and the Rhizomatic Adaptation of History
Positing an understanding of history as an adaptational practice, this article reconsiders the forms and functions of historical writings in the pre-cinematic period. Drawing on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606), which is conventionally categorised as tragedy rather than history play, it examines the drama’s adaptational approach to history and biography. Inspired by Douglas Lanier’s concept of rhizomatic adaptation, the article investigates the complex network of stories at the heart of Shakespeare’s play. Shakespeare’s idiosyncratic version of the story of MacBeth, which collapses distinctions between fact and fiction and history and reality to critically comment on the events of Shakespeare’s time, and the play’s reception over the centuries show how intricately history and adaptation are intertwined in this drama. Macbeth offers a compelling example of pre-cinematic adaptation that prefigures significant contemporary trends in the field of adaptation studies and that testifies to the power of adaptation to shift our understanding of the past as well as our relation to history.
Anja Hartl
Chapter 6. Shakespeare, Fakespeare: Authorship by Any Other Name
This chapter adopts the term “Fakespeare” in order to embrace the hyperreal nature of Shakespearean adaptation. Inspired by Umberto Eco’s “Absolute Fake,” the word acknowledges the fact that the image of some unified, transcendental Shakespeare (or Shakespearean text) is an illusion. All versions of Shakespeare are in some way fake, and Fakespeare adaptations foreground their dual position as “Shakespeare” and “not Shakespeare.” Using Dryden and Davenant’s Restoration play The Tempest as an example, this chapter offers a paradigm for reading similar descendant texts by engaging with recent theories of Shakespearean adaptation and then considering how these theories inform both the valuation and the interpretation of specific adaptations. Rather than reading these Fakespeares through the language of error or infidelity, this model illustrates how such adaptations are worthy in themselves and reflect their periods/authors better than Shakespeare, often becoming more real than the “real” Shakespeare. Through the push-pull dialectic of the Name-of-Shakespeare, descendant adaptations can therefore establish their own creative independence and become important nodes on the Shakespearean rhizome.
Jim Casey

Transmedia Culture-Texts

Chapter 7. Shakespeare’s Adaptations of the Fae and a “Shrewd and Knavish Sprite” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
This chapter analyzes an often-overlooked aspect of Shakespeare’s own acts of adaptation: the ways in which he utilized fairy stories and folk tales from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Britain to imbue A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a sense of the fantastic, preserving fairy lore that might have otherwise been lost. The chapter concentrates on how Shakespeare adapted fae demeanor and behavior from folklore for theatrical production. The chapter looks especially at the adaptations of Oberon, Titania, and Robin Goodfellow, otherwise known as Puck. Shakespeare’s most important fairy characters are an amalgamation of Celtic tales, classical mythologies, and contemporaneous folklore. Shakespeare’s adaptation would have been familiar enough to his audience to offer comfort while crafting something new and enticing. Understanding this mosaic form of adaptation allows for a more complete understanding of Shakespeare’s appeal as an adaptor.
Valerie Guyant
Chapter 8. The Medea Network: Adapting Medea in Eighteenth-Century Theatre and Visual Culture
Popularised by the Ancient tragedians Euripides and Seneca, Medea is a mythical sorceress famous for helping Jason capture the Golden Fleece and for killing her own children. Despite her apparent incongruency with dominant ideas regarding motherhood, Medea was a popular subject in the visual and performing arts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drawing from theories of adaptation networks, this chapter will analyse the existence of a ‘Medea Network’ in eighteenth-century visual and theatrical culture. First outlining the nature of this Medea Network, it then turns to an interdisciplinary analysis of specific iterations of her adaptation within such a framework, spanning from theatrical dramas like that of Gildon, Johnson, and Glover, to visual representations such as theatrical portraiture and sketches by painter George Romney. Ultimately, this chapter shows how her rhizomatic network of adaptations—contributed to by playwrights, painters, engravers, and actresses—worked to write the everchanging myth of a distinctly eighteenth-century Medea. In doing so, it demonstrates the importance and value of an approach to adaptation that is both transhistorical and transmedial.
Katie Noble
Chapter 9. The Making of Monsters: Thomas Potter Cooke and the Theatrical Debuts of Frankenstein and The Vampyre
Frankenstein’s monster and the figure of the vampire have been repeatedly brought together in adaptations since their respective cinematic debuts in 1931 (Frankenstein, 1931, and Dracula, 1931). While their shared origins within the Universal Studios Monsters franchise would seem to be responsible for this repeated coupling, the pairing together of Frankenstein’s monster and vampire is a trend that pre-dates the emergence of cinema and traces its roots back to early nineteenth-century theatre, as both Frankenstein’s monster and the vampire were first brought to life on-stage by the actor Thomas Potter Cooke. This chapter examines the implications of Cooke’s assumption of these roles, along with the ways in which his previous characters and his celebrity image ‘ghosted’ his portrayals. Through a Bakhtinian approach, which proposes that adaptive works do not silence or correct previous work but establish a dialogue between the original work and antecedent adaptations, this chapter argues that this dialogue is additionally informed by individual actors, thus demonstrating that the contemporary pairing of Frankenstein’s monster and the vampire can be traced back to the first visual representation of the two monsters and the influence of the actor that first played them both.
Eleanor Bryan
Chapter 10. Dante Gabriel Rossetti at the Intersection of Painting and Poetry
This chapter explores Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s œuvre as an early example of “prolonged adaptation,” the strategy that Alex Symons, building on the work of John Ellis, describes as “repeatedly adapting” “presold” content. Rossetti was, and remains, well-known for his aesthetic fixations: on the visual “stunner,” the story of Dante and Beatrice, and a broader medievalism. With these fixations, Rossetti deployed his “presold” content in a way that demanded that his audience participate actively in the process of adaptation through an observer effect. Rossetti’s self-adaptation is nowhere more evident than his double works, pairings of pictures with ekphrastic poems. Via two such case studies—the pairings of A Vision of Fiammetta and ‘Fiammetta (For a Picture),’ and The Day Dream and ‘The Day-Dream (For a Picture)’—the chapter will demonstrate how Rossetti deliberately used the “gaps” generated by the process of adaptation to force his audience into an active role within that process. The experience of an observer effect means a change in the present and is thus one mechanism for the “reception-generated change” that Linda Hutcheon has explored. Via Rossetti, this chapter will suggest how all adaptations work through gaps to generate observer effects in their audiences.
Dominique Gracia
Chapter 11. Markers of Class: The Antebellum Children’s Book Adaptations of The Lamplighter and Uncle Tom’s Cabin
“Marked Bodies and Unmarked Readers” argues that the antebellum children’s book adaptations of The Lamplighter and Uncle Tom’s Cabin amplify concerns of representation for some of the most vulnerable—the enslaved, the poor, the child (often intersectionally)—in 1850s America in how they mark vulnerable bodies for young readers. These young readers remain otherwise unmarked: centered, privileged, normed, white. The marked bodies of these illustrations simultaneously promote a progressive agenda and reinforce carefully marked boundaries of class and race still present but present differently in the prose. Moving beyond examining these adaptations through the vein of fidelity criticism that emphasizes an original text and subsequent variants, this chapter instead argues that the prose and illustrations exist simultaneously, requiring readers to navigate and move between these coexisting, parallel drafts. With each move between drafts, readers must navigate intersections of the socially constructed concepts of race, class, and childhood. Because these children’s book adaptations also require a necessary shift to a child audience, Morris Davis argues they bring into sharp relief the limitations of the larger abolitionist network from which these texts come, a network that despite its noble intentions remains centered on whiteness.
Maggie E. Morris Davis
Chapter 12. Alice, Animals, and Adaptation: John Tenniel’s Influence on Wonderland and Its Early Adaptation History
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), a caterpillar asks Alice “who are you?” Her response: “I—I hardly know, sir, just at the present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then” (35). Alice has changed many times in over 150 years, having been reinterpreted in endless Wonderlands across mediums as diverse as print illustration to film to video games. In this chapter, I argue that there is a visual consistency in adaptations of Alice, which was established by illustrator John Tenniel and nurtured through fifty years of print, stage, and ephemeral adaptation by Lewis Carroll. Expanding on the adaptational vocabulary of evolution, we can see how the primacy of Alice’s pre-cinematic depictions was in part the result of a variety of environmental factors, including a nineteenth-century frenzy for natural science, John Tenniel’s popularity as a Punch cartoonist, and Lewis Carroll’s desire to sow the seeds of Wonderland in a variety of mediums in order to reach as many audiences as possible.
Kristen Layne Figgins
Chapter 13. CODA: Transmedia Cultural History, Convergence Culture, and the Future of Adaptation Studies
Adaptation studies, whether situated in literary or media studies, lacks a coherent model that illustrates how many adaptations of the same story work together, creating what Paul Davis, Brian Rose, and others refer to as “culture-texts.” Culture-texts are retold and remade countlessly, over long periods of time, building a large network of adaptations and remakes that is neither owned nor dominated by a particular author, medium, or “authoritative” version. Similarly, contemporary media studies does not fully account for how much today’s industry practices are inheritances of the past—adapted and repackaged not only for modern audiences but also for new technological, economic, legal, political, and social contexts. This chapter adapts and expands Henry Jenkins’s theories of transmedia storytelling, convergence culture, and participatory culture to develop a new model for transhistorical adaptation studies. This transhistorical view includes storytelling across a diverse range of forms and media, including literature, the performing arts, visual arts, film and television, new media, and immersive/hybrid forms. Szwydky’s “Transmedia cultural history” expands existing definitions to include long-term historical awareness and engagement. Transmedia cultural history incorporates practices of artistic production, industrial convergence, and ongoing audience (and scholarly) reception. This term explores how technology, spectacle, celebrity, the proliferation and commercialization of art forms, world-building, tie-ins, and merchandizing functioned at different historical moments. Moreover, it provides opportunities to identify and examine how cultural production in early periods has influenced complementary practices in later periods, including the present.
Lissette Lopez Szwydky
Adaptation Before Cinema
Lissette Lopez Szwydky
Glenn Jellenik
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