Comparative Literature goes beyond linguistic and national boundaries and provides broad international perspective on literary influences and analogies, themes, literary movements and literary genres and forms. It also studies the intersections of literature with other forms of cultural expression such as drama, visual arts, music, and film. Literary adaptation of films is one of the controversial realms of comparative literature and cinema studies.
Studying literary adaptations broadens understanding f narratives In different forms, written on page and played on the screen. One of the mall discourses on film adaptation studies Is based on the notion of fidelity; whether the film Is faithful to the original text and conveys the same message or violates the messages of the original work. However it should be considered that fidelity is problematic in the matter that it does not take into consideration the medial differences that are essential to the transition from literature to film.
This paper is a comparison between Edward Label’s drama, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf, and its 966 adaptation by Mike Nichols and aims to study if fidelity of the film to the messages and the spirit of the original textual source is achieved and whether the film employs the same tone, theme and plot as the drama. Edward Label’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf was first performed In New York city in 1 962 and it was a success since Label’s drama provided an Insight Into American life.
In the sass, the public culture and the politicians put great emphasis on a happy family and the American Ideal successful family was considered the one with a house, car and kids. However, Label removes this false cover from the Ideal family and reveals the truth and problems beneath the surface. He shows that the public image of marriage that most couples project can be completely different from the private image.
The coarse language and the sexual content of the play shocked the audience and with the Production Code of the time it seemed unlikely to be adapted for screen. However, due to changing attitudes of modern time there were private and public complaints against the Motion Picture Association of America (MAMA) and the Catholic Church, which strictly regulated and influenced the language, tone, and themes of American cinema from the mid-sass to the mid-sass.
In 1966 Mike Nichols directed his film adaptation of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf In Warner Brothers’ studio starring famous real-life couple, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Martha and George, Sandy Dennis and George Seal as Honey and Nick. At first the film was denied a with the approval of the film on the condition of minor censorship of certain blasphemous words and scenes and a special warning placed on all film advertisements indicating adult content. Is was the first film with such a label. In fact the film was granted the approval for its “high quality”,”great cost” and the studio’s adult classification. Valentine “explained that, according to Warner Brothers, the film’s text was unalterable without some resorting, but in the future the Association was going to be stronger and tougher to get scripts, dialog, etc. , before a picture is completed and before a lot of money is invested” (Leaf p. 12). But the code itself was reaching to its end.
The Production Code posed some changes in the film for instance, the phrase “screw you” was replaced with “God damn you” in Marsh’s illegal to her husband Just as George opens the door to their guests. In Marsh’s dialogue to George in the yard of the roadhouse the word “frigging” was deleted although such a petty deletion seems to be too small to make the strong language of the film less offensive. Also George’s allusion to “Jesus money … Mary money” in Get the Guests game is deleted for religious considerations.
The scene of Marsh’s seduction of Nick was completely altered since according to The Production Code Administration (PICA) “the sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall e upheld. Pictures shall not infer [sic] that low forms of sex relationship are the excepted or common things. ” (CTD. In Leaf, p. 9). The screenwriter, Ernest Lehman, dealt with the flirtation scene in variety of ways in several drafts and eventually the salacious dialogues and scenes were censored and the final draft depicted George standing in the yard looking up at Nick and Marsh’s shadows in the bedroom window.
In transition from a textual art of drama to a visual art of film some changes are inevitable. Lehman extends a living room setting of the play to various locations n the film and presents the characters in different rooms of the house, in the yard, in the car, inside and outside the roadhouse. These changes were mostly due to visual variety. Although Lehman opens up the screenplay to some scenes outside the house, he is careful not to lose the sense of enclosure that George and Marsh’s small living room creates.
For example, in the opening scene that Martha and George are walking home from the party the enclosure and isolation of the characters is supplied through visual effect – pools of light- and sound effect- silence. Lehman also ads some action to support talk for example, when George and Martha get home, they do the usual things that everybody does like taking off the outer clothes, looking into the mirror, moving around the bathroom, the bedroom and the living room and the camera follows them with no restrict.
In the scene in the yard when George talks to Nick, the fog and deep silence strengthen the anxiety which his stylized narrative conveys. Highpoint compares the stillness and restfulness of the yard with the tension inside and asserts that it offers a moment of relief for Nick before he is sent jack inside to play out his role in George and Marsh’s dangerous game. Lineman’s most important addition to the play is the roadhouse which divides into inside and outside of it. The inside of a roadhouse does not seem to be a suitable setting to reveal the secrets of the young couple’s marriage and George’s suppressed novel.
Leaf suggests that the roadhouse adds little to either and an empty classroom building or Daddy’s greenhouse could have served better to deal with the idea of Although the scene inside the roadhouse does not seem to be appropriate as a setting, it works well to convince the audience why Nick and Honey remained with George and Martha to be played again. This question is raised in the drama but is not solved and the reader is kept puzzled. Lehman believed that after George accuses Nick of playing faculty beds to keep his status, Nick would get too offended to stay longer.
So in the film Nick, angered, decides to leave, George simply gets his car to take their guests home. They arrive at the roadhouse and George continues his games. It is more convenience in Lineman’s draft than in Label’s drama. Lehman includes two minor characters, the waiter and the waitress, in this scene which educes the dramatic tension that is present in the drama. Label depicts George and Marsh’s private verse fantasy lives but Lineman’s addition strengthens their private verse public lives in this scene.
Although Lehman opens up the single-living room setting, the tension present in the drama is kept by using cinematographic techniques; the shakiness of a hand-held camera that follows the characters, tracking a face and different close-ups involves the viewer in the tension each character is experiencing; moreover, the camera “catches George and Martha trapped in a space ar too small for their massive, twisted egos to maneuver in. ” (Highpoint). Black and white cinematography was used less often then but Nichols prefers it to reflect George and Marsh’s interior hell, anxiety of their souls and their tortured married life.
The dark and gloomy atmosphere of the play is created through the lens of a black and white camera. Nichols took advantage of black and white cinematography to show the internal conflict of the characters and it was also the best choice to make Elizabeth Tailor’s make up more believable since she was almost twenty years younger than Martha. Furthermore, the use of shadows helps create a dreamlike state which strengthen the encounter between truth and illusion. The relationship between Martha and her father is ambiguous in the film because some dialogues related to her father have been omitted in the film.
In the play Martha talks to the guests about her childhood when her mother died early and she grew up with her father. She says, “l admired that guy! I absolutely worshiped him. I still do. And he was pretty fond of me, too you know? We had a real rapport going a real rapport. [… ]l was hostess for Daddy and I took care of him and It was very ice. ” (Label P. 52-53). Marsh’s soliloquy at the beginning of act three reveals more about her relationship with her father: “Daddy? Daddy? Martha is abandon-deed. Left to her own vices at [Peers at a clock] something o’clock in the old A.
M. Daddy White- Mouse; do you really have red eyes? Do you? Let me see. Oho! You do! You do! Daddy, you have red eyes because you cry all the time, don’t you, Daddy. Yes; you Lehman placed these dialogues in the screenplay and the film itself and to make the relationship more explicit he used a heart-shaped locket with Daddy’s picture in with which Martha played when she was talking about Daddy and their “real rapport”, she also peered at the picture in the locket in her soliloquy; hence, the locket was referred to symbolize Daddy.
But then these scenes were eliminated because of time limitation and the effect of the locket remains unnoticed in the other scenes that the locket nervously ,which implies that she has to deny her father to accept George fully as her husband. At the end of the play, Label resolves the ambiguity through George’s dialogue: “and on top of all that, poor weighed-down girl, PLUS a father who ally doesn’t give a damn whether she lives or dies, who couldn’t care less what happens to his only daughter. ” (P. 131). It is revealed that what Martha has told about her relationship with her father is only her illusion and what she wishes to be true.
She has always been seeking her father’s attention and affection and she has done a great deal to satisfy her father since she was a kid. Marsh’s marrying with George is also partly because of satisfying her father whom she worships as a great successful man. Martha wishes her husband followed Daddy in profession but George fails to fulfill her wish, so she frequently compares disappointing George with Daddy and blames him for his failures. With deletion of above-mentioned dialogue the ambiguity in the relationship between Martha and Daddy remains unresolved in the film.
Label provides different situations for George and Nick to have arguments about history and biology and through George’s attacks on Nick’s profession and genetic engineering, criticizes the existing modern trend in science. However most of these dialogues have been deleted in the film, which upset Label since he believes the political message of the play has not been conveyed. The play was written during the Cold War, when communism was considered a great threat to the Western, democratic way of life which is symbolized by George, named after American president, George Washington. N the World War II the United States and The Soviet Union united against the Nazis and divided the capital of Germany, Berlin, into two halves, the East Berlin controlled by the soviet communists and the West Berlin under the power of American Democrats. Label admits that he has named Nick after Nikkei Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, to be a symbol of communism. The Americans’ life in democracy and individual liberty was against the thought of Soviet communists who believed that the individuals should be readily ignored in favor of the whole nation.
The communists optimistically believed that their system would take over the whole world, so George’s frequently calling Nick “the wave of the future” implies this communists’ hope to change the world. As an American Democrat, George is afraid of losing individual liberty as a result of genetics progress: “There will be a certain loss of liberty, I imagine, as a result of this experiment but diversity will no longer be the goal. Cultures and races will eventually vanish the ants will take over the world. ” (P. 46). George’s reference to ants reflects the Americans’ view of a cooperative structure of communist society.
As a historian, George is strongly opposed to the uniformity that such a structure would bring about and believes that the society “will lose its glorious variety and unpredictability. L, and with me the the surprise, the multiplicity, the sea-changing rhythm of history, will be’ eliminated. There will be order and constancy and I am unalterably opposed to it. I will not give up Berlin! ” (P. 46). George mentions Berlin and directly references to Cold War tension but with the elimination of this dialogue and the other ones concerning the Cold War the audience would not feel the tension George feels and Label meant to be transferred.
George argues with Nick:” You’re the one! You’re the one’s going to make all that trouble… Making everyone the same, historian George is aware of the outcome of purification of human generation and his criticism of eugenics reminds the audience of the Holocaust which has not past more than two decades. He explains to Martha what the biologists like Nick do: “It’s very impel, Martha, this young man is working on a system whereby chromosomes can be altered… Well, not all by himself ? he probably has one or two conspirators ? the genetic makeup of a sperm cell changed, reordered… O order, actually… For hair and eye color, stature, potency… ‘ imagine… Hairiness, features, health… And mind. Most important… Mind. All imbalances will be corrected, sifted out… Propensity for various diseases will be gone, longevity assured. We will have a race of men… Test- tube bred… Incubator born… Superb and sublime. ” (P. 45) George is listing the features of eugenic fitness and it is not surprising that he feels threatened since he knows that according to this list he is “the imperfect… the ugly,… He unfit” who does not belong to the ideal society. It is the emphasis of society on normalcy that creates the eugenic fitness features which brought about suppression of different forms of disability. Unlike Nick, George does not have an athletic body, is not blonde and good looking. He is a failure as a master of the history department and becoming the successor to the president of the college. Martha is also unfit since he fails to live up to the standards of an ideal woman in the society; she lacks the fertility which is an important item to be fit.
Martha is discontent with her marriage since it was an attempt to find a suitable heir for her father: “When you’ve made something, you want to pass it on, to somebody. So I was sort of on the lookout for… Prospects with the new men. An heir apparent” (P. 53) . She gets disappointed to have a successful life since George “didn’t have the stuff… That he didn’t have it in him! ” (P. 56). Nick and Honey who seemed to be an ideal couple at first turn out to be unfit as well. Honey who is afraid of being hurt due to child bearing takes medication to avoid pregnancy and probably aborted.
Nick, a blonde athletic blue-eyed man, apparently seems to be fit but eventually is called impotent by Martha. He admits that his marriage to Honey was mostly due to her father’s wealth. Through George’s criticism of biology and his fears of its ability to create a race of identical “test tube babies” all like Nick, who can be so ruthless and ambitious that uses any means to progress even sleeping with faculty wives, Label reveals his worries of the absence of royalty in a frightening future created by science.
This great anxiety is not fully transferred in the film for several deletions. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Is considered one of the most successful conversions of an American drama into picture. Despite minor eliminations from the play some of which are inevitable in transition from a textual source to a film the screenplay adaptation remains faithful to Label’s drama and does not magnify the weaknesses and the strengths of the play. Nichols has kept the same tone and transferred most of the themes of the play with he help of cinematographic techniques.