Friday, December 19, 2008

If It Sounds Familiar

frame--the placing of a story or episode within a larger, organized or thematic format such as The Decameron or The Canterbury Tales, where it becomes a segment of a whole; to base a new story on the characters and plot of a previously published work. The framed tale concept is an advertisement for a multiple point of view narration.

James Thurber's memorable short story, "The Man in the Cat Bird Seat," is framed on the revenge concept that inspired Poe's "A Cask of Amontillado." Motion picture director and novelist Paul Mazursky framed an imaginative modern version of Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, while yet another version of that play was framed for television, casting the dramatic events at the time of the American Civil War. Katherine Anne Porter's novel, Ship of Fools, bears comparison to The Canterbury Tales in its use of a broad segment of national, social, and moral types, bound together in transit from one destination to another.

Any work of reputation is fair game for framing; Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court can be seen as being framed on the Arthurian legend, while James Joyce's Ulysses is scrupulously framed on the tales of Odysseus, returning home from the Trojan Wars and The Iliad, in which he played a major part. The major cautionary note for framing is that the framed version must stand on its own with interesting individuals engaged in arresting and enlightening story, even if the reader happens not to be aware of the original source. Another cautionary note: it is helpful for the reader to know the genesis of the framed work.

Some writers and critics would include the story-within-a-story concept (the play within Hamlet, for instance) as an adjunct of framing.

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