The Player King and Kingly Players

Inverting Hamlet in Lee Joon-ik's King and the Clown (2005)


  • Adele Lee Emerson College


Set during the reign of King Yeonsan (1476-1506), King and the Clown (Wang-ui Namja, dir. Lee Joon-ik, 2005) is an (overlooked) adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet that grafts the play onto Korean history and retells the story from the perspective of the traveling players. Employed to help Yeonsan confront and explore his unresolved (Oedipal) issues and to "catch the conscience" (2.2.582) of corrupt officials, the troupe finds itself dangerously embroiled in court politics and asked to stage a number of theatrical "mousetraps" to the point where the interior plays supersede the exterior film. By making the "clowns" the heroes and the plays-within-the-film the main foci, King and the Clown threatens to turn Shakespeare's Hamlet inside out, structurally and thematically, an inversion that reflects South Korean resistance to western cultural hegemony. This paper will explore the ways in which Lee's carnivalesque film functions to decenter the "original," as well as to blur the lines of distinction between the stage and the screen, the local and the global.

Author Biography

Adele Lee, Emerson College

Adele Lee is Assistant Professor in Early Modern Literature at Emerson College, USA. She is the author of The English Renaissance and the Far East: Cross-Cultural Encounters (2017) and has published articles in such journals as Shakespeare Bulletin, Early Modern Literary Studies, Quidditas, and Contemporary Women's Writing, among others. Current projects include a book-length study of Shakespeare in East Asian Education (co-authored with Sarah Olive, Kohei Uchimaru, and Li Jun and contracted with Palgrave) as well as an edited collection on Shakespeare and "Accentism." Prior to joining Emerson College, Lee was Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Greenwich, London.