Documentaries about the use of Shakespeare in applied theatre publicise and endorse the work of practitioners to scholars as well as the general public, and have influenced the growth of academic interest in what this article terms Social Shakespeare: practices in which Shakespeare and social work interact with each other to bring about change. However, in the quest for touching and uplifting individual stories, such media treatments risk ignoring the actual values and strategies governing the work in favour of narratives that normalise social differences through emphasis on the transformative power of Shakespearean theatre, viewed as a sanctified space. Documentaries about three different constituencies – prisoners, young people with learning disabilities, and combat veterans – are examined to determine how far they locate the need for change in society rather than in the individual.
Susanne Greenhalgh is Head of Ethics and Interdisciplinary Developments in the Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance, University of Roehampton. Her research interests centre on Shakespearean adaptation and reception, and the relationship between theatre, culture and audio-visual media. She has written many articles on Shakespeare's appropriation and citation in different periods and settings, including children's literature, television, radio and live broadcasts to cinema. With Kate Chedgzoy and Robert Shaughnessy she co-edited Shakespeare and Childhood (Cambridge University Press, 2007), and with Pascale Aebischer and Laurie Osborne, Shakespeare and the ‘Live’ Theatre Broadcast Experience (Arden Bloomsbury, 2018), as well as special issues of Shakespeare and Shakespeare Bulletin.