Early on in the institute, I wanted to foreground the importance of starting with Shakespeare's language. Even as many/most Shakespearean adaptations stray from the original language, one of the more interesting bits about focusing on adaptation is in looking at how each one strays from the language.
Case in point, I brought in several international versions of the play-within-a-play scene from Hamlet. What is the point/purpose of the play-within-a-play? What kind of space for interpretation is available in that scene? Why even produce Shakespeare if not in English? We explored all of these questions while looking at how each adaptation made the scene its own.
In Russian director Grigori Kozintsev's version, he stayed fairly close to the text (and Olivier).
In the Japanese film The Bad Sleep Well, director Akira Kurosawa added several additional layers to the scene. Nishi (the Hamlet figure) recruits Wada for the role of the Ghost by having Wada view his own funeral through the windshield of Nishi's car. Instead of using the play-within-a-play to gauge the guilt of the Claudius figure, Kurosawa uses it to show the reaction of another victim of this corrupt corporation. We see Wada react to the "play" of the funeral, but we also see/react to Nishi's manipulation of the scene in a larger way than we do in the play proper.
In Indian director Vishal Bhardwaj's 2014 film Haider, we see the film center the conflict in Kashmir. His Hamlet figure (Haider, brilliantly played by Shahid Kapoor) performs his musical play-within-a-play at the wedding of his mother and uncle as a last ditch attempt to sway his mother away from the match. Rather than reveal his guilt, his uncle instead reveals his awareness of Haider's plot against him, and orders Haider's capture. Participants in the Institute found this scene so compelling that they ALL chose to watch the full version of Haider on our next Monday night movie night.
Finally, in two Chinese adaptations--both released in 2006--the play within a play takes on drastically different tones. In Sherwood Hu's Prince of the Himalayas, his Hamlet figure (Prince Lhamoklodan) is barely involved in the play-within-a-play. Instead, the scene is arranged by the "Wolf Woman," a magical figure in contact with the ghost of Lhamoklodan's murdered father. She pushes back against the dark wishes of the murdered king, which sends the story spinning off into new (and fascinating) directions). In director Feng Xiaogang's The Banquet (released in the United States under the title The Legend of the Black Scorpion), the Hamlet figure (Wu Luan)'s father's ghost is minimized to a weeping suit of stationary armor. In this production, the queen is not Wu Luan's biological mother, but his beloved, whom his father (and afterwards his uncle as well) stole for himself. In the play-within-a-play, Wu Luan gives a performance intended to accomplish the same goals as Shakespeare's Hamlet--but here, the goal is as much reclaiming a woman he loves as it is vengeance for a father who, at best, wronged him. After Wu Luan's performance, his uncle gives a performance of his own, sending Wu Luan to an enemy as part of a treaty exchange. None of the characters speak directly, and so most of the meaning comes not from what they say, but rather what they don't say, and how they go about not saying it.
By foregrounding Shakespeare's language and then pivoting to international adaptations of a scene, it becomes possible to study Shakespeare, other cultures, and adaptation simultaneously.
Video clip comparison of the 5 international play within a play scenes. Please ignore the "Helena Rejected" caption on the title slide. I forgot to remove it when making this clip compilation.