Shakespearean Actors, Memes, Social Media and the Circulation of Shakespearean ‘Value’

  • Anna Blackwell


A young boy slopes late into his English classroom after skipping school to watch a blockbuster starring his favourite action hero, Jack Slater. His teacher introduces a clip from Laurence Olivier’s 1948 Hamlet to the dismay of her charges, telling them that they might recognize its British actor from the Polaroid commercials or, with slight resignation, ‘as Zeus in Clash of the Titans’. The boy is Danny Madigan (Austen O’Brien), the protagonist of Last Action Hero; his favourite star is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and, pleasingly, his English teacher by Joan Plowright. Satirizing the associations of different cultural modes such as Shakespearean drama, classical music and the action genre, the 1993 film subverts the audience’s expectations in order to parody them. Olivier becomes the man from the Polaroid commercials and his expressionistic Hamlet a Slater star vehicle. Contemplating Hamlet’s most famous line, Schwarzenegger decides, ‘To be or not to be … Not to be’. Meanwhile, Olivier’s noirish colour palette is lit by sparks from the play’s newly interpolated action scenes. Although a comic adaptation, Last Action Hero’s blockbuster Hamlet offers a valuable introduction to the subject of this chapter: the role of actors in the shaping of our understanding of Shakespearean ‘value’ (in both an economic and a cultural sense).


Social Medium Cultural Capital Popular Culture Classical Music Daily Mail 
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  • Anna Blackwell

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