This paper examines certain theoretical underpinnings of the historical processes by which Shakespeare's history plays became the de facto collective memory of the events they depict, even when those events are misrepresented. The scholarly conversation about this misrepresentation has heretofore centered on Shakespeare's potential political motivations. I argue that this focus on a political, authorial intent has largely ignored the impact these historical distortions have had over the subsequent 400 years. I propose that, due to Shakespeare's unique place in the historical timeline of the development of collective memory, Shakespeare's historical misrepresentation in the history plays is a byproduct of the emerging ability to access historical sources while also shaping the nascent collective memory. Shakespeare became an archon, in the Derridian sense, of English history. As such he exercised the archon's hermeneutic right to interpret English history. Tracing the methods by which the public experienced Shakespeare's plays, this project shows that in the 20th century film became the dominant medium by which audiences experienced Shakespeare for the first time. Using Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight as the principle example, I show that the hermeneutic right shifted away from Shakespeare and was instead taken on by directors reinterpreting Shakespeare's version of history. Welles' knowing manipulation of the archontic function empowers his film, affecting subsequent interpretation and placing it squarely in the Shakespearean film canon.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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Shakespeare, Orson Welles, Jacques Derrida, archive, archon, collective memory