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Dangerously modern: Shakespeare, voice, and the “New Psychology” in John Barrymore’s “Unstable” characters

Dangerously modern: Shakespeare, voice, and the “New Psychology” in John Barrymore’s “Unstable” characters
Dangerously modern: Shakespeare, voice, and the “New Psychology” in John Barrymore’s “Unstable” characters
This chapter demonstrates three areas of John Barrymore’s acting style as it developed in the 1920s and early 1930s and how he adapted to the sound film. After a successful silent career Barrymore’s voice was heard in his rendition of Shakespeare’s Richard III soliloquy through Warner Bros.’ new Vitaphone sound system in the variety film The Show of Shows (1929). It added a depth of acting virtuosity that had been hinted at in the physicality of his performance in the silent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) and The Sea Beast (1926). It became an important part of a turn toward playing roles of aberrant masculinity such as Svengali (1931) and The Mad Genius (1931). Secondly, in his introduction to the scene Barrymore says the soliloquy “discloses [Richard’s] own piquant psychology.” He is referring to the wider cultural context of a popularisation of Freud’s theories at the time. This “new psychology” was not only carried through in the creation of Barrymore’s Richard III and Hamlet but was an important element in making Barrymore’s interpretations of the Bard “modern.” Finally, the “danger” that Barrymore carried from his Shakespearean roles became a central element in the unstable characters he chose to play in his Warner’s sound films. This chapter examines that instability arguing it was predicated on a modern conception of psychic wounding in the motivations of Ahab in Moby Dick (1930), the more fantastic characters of Svengali (1931) and Tsarakov in The Mad Genius, and in his later portrayal of war veteran Hilary Fairfield in Bill of Divorcement (1932).
Edinburgh University Press
Hammond, Michael
6285f8c5-aeca-4715-845b-dd05e3e0b777
Pomerance, Murray
Rybin, Steven
Hammond, Michael
6285f8c5-aeca-4715-845b-dd05e3e0b777
Pomerance, Murray
Rybin, Steven

Hammond, Michael (2017) Dangerously modern: Shakespeare, voice, and the “New Psychology” in John Barrymore’s “Unstable” characters. In, Pomerance, Murray and Rybin, Steven (eds.) Hamlet Lives in Hollywood: John Barrymore and the Acting Tradition Onscreen. Edinburgh University Press.

Record type: Book Section

Abstract

This chapter demonstrates three areas of John Barrymore’s acting style as it developed in the 1920s and early 1930s and how he adapted to the sound film. After a successful silent career Barrymore’s voice was heard in his rendition of Shakespeare’s Richard III soliloquy through Warner Bros.’ new Vitaphone sound system in the variety film The Show of Shows (1929). It added a depth of acting virtuosity that had been hinted at in the physicality of his performance in the silent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) and The Sea Beast (1926). It became an important part of a turn toward playing roles of aberrant masculinity such as Svengali (1931) and The Mad Genius (1931). Secondly, in his introduction to the scene Barrymore says the soliloquy “discloses [Richard’s] own piquant psychology.” He is referring to the wider cultural context of a popularisation of Freud’s theories at the time. This “new psychology” was not only carried through in the creation of Barrymore’s Richard III and Hamlet but was an important element in making Barrymore’s interpretations of the Bard “modern.” Finally, the “danger” that Barrymore carried from his Shakespearean roles became a central element in the unstable characters he chose to play in his Warner’s sound films. This chapter examines that instability arguing it was predicated on a modern conception of psychic wounding in the motivations of Ahab in Moby Dick (1930), the more fantastic characters of Svengali (1931) and Tsarakov in The Mad Genius, and in his later portrayal of war veteran Hilary Fairfield in Bill of Divorcement (1932).

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 2017
Published date: 2017
Additional Information: This will be published in the summer of 2017.
Organisations: Film

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 411651
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/411651
PURE UUID: 8178401f-bab7-480b-890e-494ef2c21e72

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 21 Jun 2017 16:33
Last modified: 27 Oct 2020 19:54

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Contributors

Author: Michael Hammond
Editor: Murray Pomerance
Editor: Steven Rybin

University divisions

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