SHAKESPEARE MEETS SOUTHPARK
(A Q&A session with writer/director Norman Szabo.)
photo by Jerome Favre
Q. What inspired you to make this film?
A. Most people have heard of Abelard and Heloise -- their romantic
reputation and the famous love letters -- but very few people really
know their story. I didn't know it myself until a couple years ago when
I sat down and read Abelard's 'Historia Calamitatum' -- and it totally
blew me away! In France, everyone knows
all about them. These guys are heroes. They're buried side by side,
and lovers make pilgrimages to their grave.
I think it's time the English-speaking world found out what all the
fuss is about.
Q. So this is a true story?
A. Absolutely, yes.
Scholars still argue about some of the details and the Catholic church
has done what it can to marginalize Abelard's importance -- theologically,
he was a borderline heretic -- but yes: Abelard and Heloise were living
breathing people, and their story is something that really historically
Q. The full title of the film is 'William Shakespeare's Abelard+Heloise'.
How much of Shakespeare is there in this film?
A. The film is based
on William Shakespeare's uncompleted play 'Abelard and Elois, a Tragedie'.
Some of the scenes -- the courtroom scenes; the contest at the inn; the
scene in Fulbert's house where Abelard and Heloise first meet -- were
taken almost verbatim from the Shakespeare manuscript (MS). Other parts
of the text, such as the prologue, were adapted for the film version.
Also, since the original MS was only about 60-70% complete, quite a lot
of material had to be added. And, dare I say it? one or two scenes that
I felt were too far from the 'story spine', were actually cut.
Q. Shakespeare is known to have written 37 plays. Was Abelard and Heloise his 38th?
A. Well, the MS is dated June, 1606, which means that chronologically
it was written just before some of his other historically-based
tragedies: Antony and Cleopatra (1606); Coriolanus (1607-8); and
Timon of Athens (1607-8). Somehow though, the incomplete first-draft
MS was lost, presumably in the summer of 1606.
Q. How did the MS come to be lost?
A. The history of the MS has been pieced together by scholars
and can be read here.
Q. When and where was the manuscript rediscovered?
A. The MS of this play was discovered in Tamshui, Taiwan in 1972 and remains in private hands.
Q. Is it genuine?
A. Yes. Most scholars now agree that the MS is authentic.
Q. Have you seen it?
A. Yes. On one occasion, the owners allowed me to see the original, but of course, when I worked
on the adaptation, I was working from a photocopy.
Q. Why did you opt for animation?
A. Shooting a period costume drama in Taiwan on a shoestring budget just wouldn't have worked!
Animation was obviously the right way to go, both technically and artistically.
Q. The style of the film has been described as 'Shakespeare meets Southpark'.
Isn't that an irreverent way to treat the Bard?
A. Sure it's irreverent
-- but what's wrong with irreverence? I think Shakespeare would have loved it!
Q. You've been very privileged in having personal access to this hitherto unknown Shakespeare play...
A. Yes, I've been incredibly lucky.
Q. ... and you've exploited that privilege to launch your own film career. Can you comment on that?
A. Well, sure the MS is a literary treasure, but it's also a play. Shakespeare wrote it
as entertainment and that's exactly how I'm using it. I don't think that's
unethical. I think my film presents his play to the world in a form that
the Bard himself would have been proud of. All I can say is: see the film
and decide for yourself.