“Screening Social Justice: Performing Reparative Shakespeare against Vocal Disability”  

Adaptation 14.2 (August 2021): 187–205. DOI: 10.1093/adaptation/apaa031

Many screen and stage adaptations of the classics are informed by a philosophical investment in literature’s reparative merit, a preconceived notion that performing the canon can make one a better person. Inspirational narratives, in particular, have instrumentalized the canon to serve socially reparative purposes. Social recuperation of disabled figures loom large in adaptation, and many reparative adaptations tap into a curative quality of Shakespearean texts. When Shakespeare’s phrases or texts are quoted, even in fragments, they serve as an index of intelligence of the speaker. Governing the disability narrative is the trope about Shakespeare’s therapeutic value. There are two strands of recuperative adaptations. The first is informed by the assumption that the dramatic situations exemplify moral universals. The second strand consists of adaptations that problematize heteronormativity and psychological universals in liberal humanist visions of the canon. This approach is self-conscious of deeply contextual meanings of the canon. As a result, it lends itself to the genres of parody, metatheatre, and metacinema. Through case studies of Tom Hooper’s King’s Speech, Cheah Chee Kong’s Chicken Rice War, and other adaptations that thematize vocal disorders, this article identifies a common trope in reparative performances of disability in order to highlight some questions the trope raises.

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