Time Travel and the Return of the Author

Shakespeare in Love, "The Shakespeare Code," and Bill


  • Janice Wardle University of Central Lancashire


In the latter part of the twentieth century, Roland Barthes's reader-orientated theory, "the death of the author," seemed to signal the end of biographical literary investigation. And yet by the end of the twentieth century, fueled in part by the rising wave of celebrity culture, a new strategy in relation to canonical texts emerged: the resurrection of the author via the biographical film. This paper examines the extent to which "time travel" via contemporary film to the early career of Shakespeare in the 1590s has been driven by a search for images of the playwright relevant to modern audiences, whether that be romantic bard or rock star hero. The texts considered here which explore versions of the author Shakespeare include John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (1998), the BBC's Doctor Who: "The Shakespeare Code" (2007), and Richard Bracewell's Bill (2015). The discussion investigates the significance of these filmic travels through time and place and, by linking them to literary tourism, examines how these ideas are utilized to create personal and national memories. It also shows how these representations of time and place, and the attempt to establish contemporary connections with audiences, engages with central questions in adaptation studies about the authenticity and fidelity of texts and performance.

Author Biography

Janice Wardle, University of Central Lancashire

Janice Wardle is Associate Head of School at the University of Central Lancashire. Her publications include "'One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons': Twelfth Night," in Talking Shakespeare, edited by Michael Scott and Deborah Cartmell (2001) and "'Outside Broadcast': Looking Backwards and Forwards, Live Theatre in the Cinema — NT Live and RSC Live," Adaptation 7.2 (2014): 134-53.