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Shakespeare & Beyond

From Hero to Lady Susan: Kate Beckinsale in 'Love & Friendship'

As curators of the upcoming exhibition Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity opening at the Folger on August 6, we could not help viewing the new Austen film Love & Friendship through a Shakespearean lens—and with an eye to celebrity culture. For us, actress Kate Beckinsale is one of the movie stars who can link Shakespeare and Austen in popular culture.

Celebrity association depends, of course, on the role in which a fan first encounters a particular actor on the screen or stage. Laurence Olivier, for example, was trained as a Shakespearean stage actor before he played Mr. Darcy in the 1940 Pride and Prejudice screen sensation. But would movie audiences have wiped that Austen experience completely from their minds when they saw him again as Hamlet in the 1948 film? Or were lingering Austen associations part of the pleasure of seeing Olivier perform Shakespeare—and vice versa?

Dame Judi Dench, a great Shakespearean actress, brought her thespian reputation to bear on the staunch Lady Catherine de Bourgh in 2005. So too have other actresses forged links between Will & Jane: Emma Thompson (Beatrice in 1993 and Elinor in 1995); Gwyneth Paltrow (Emma in 1996 and Juliet/Viola in 1998); and Kate Winslet (Marianne in 1995 and Ophelia in 1996).

Such links do not call into question the skills of great actors, whose talents indeed make us forget their true selves in favor of the characters they portray. But celebrity, when forged by a particular high-profile role or film, unwittingly and inevitably carries that association forward into the next part.  In theater studies this inevitable sense of déjà vu is called “ghosting” and may even be harnessed with casting or staging choices to deliberately stimulate spectator memory.


Very interesting… I loved the film (Love and Friendship) and agree that it is pretty controversial in some ways. Interesting to compare the two characters.

Rachel Carney — June 15, 2016

I agree with Rachel Carney’s comments! Although it’s off topic, I think might have been helpful to state that Kate Beckinsale played Emma in the 1996 “rustic” version, which I enjoyed much more than Gwyneth’s version(although I prefer Romola Garai’s Emma 2009 kinder/funnier version. Indeed, my favorite Austen adaptation).

Kirk — June 15, 2016