Shakespeare In Film
William Shakespeare lived from 1564-1616. In that time, he wrote many plays and sonnets. Quite a few of his plays have been made, and in some cases remade, into movies. Not all were based directly on the original works, West Side Story, for example was a musical set in the 20th century with the story line of Romeo & Juliet, where the feuding Capulet and Montegue families become the Sharks and the Jets, rival street gangs. The 1996 version of Romeo & Juliet, (starring Claire Danes, and Leonardo DiCaprio) had a modern setting -Verona Beach- but the script remained relatively unchanged. Of course many movies were based completely on the plays. The following is a listing of those plays that have had movies based on them completely:
Romeo & Juliet:
Is one of Shakespeares earlier plays, from his second period, and it is said to have been written around 1595, though the precise year is not certain for this, nor, in fact, any of his plays. It begins with an introduction that explains the situation of the story, which is basically, that in Verona, Italy, there are two wealthy families, the Caplets and the Montagues,who have hated eachother for some time, and their fighting has increased with the new generation. Juliet, the only daughter of Lord and Lady Capulet, was betrothed to County Paris, and Romeo (Lord and Lady Montagues son) was in love with the aloof, and much to his dislike, virtuous, Rosaline. Romeos best friend Mercutio decides that he wants to go to a party being held by the Capulets, so he sneaks himself, along with Romeo, Romeos cousin Benvolio, and their friends Sampson and Gregory, into it. Upon arriving, Romeo is received better by some guests than others. Tybalt, Juliets cousin, wishes Romeo to be thrown out, but is calmed by Lord Capulet, but when Juliet meets Romeo, neither of them knowing who the other is, they fall instantly in love, and Paris and Rosaline are completely forgotten by the young lovers. At the end of the party both are informed of the others identity,( Juliet at that point has the lovely quote," My only love sprung from my only hate.....) but since Romeo is leaving, they are unable to discuss the fact. Romeo later abandons his friends and climbs the wall to Juliets balcony where he overhears the famous quote, "Romeo, oh, Romeo, wherefor art thou Romeo?" (which is often misinterpreted to mean, "where are you Romeo?", when in truth, "wherefor" means why, thus she is actually asking, "Why are you Romeo?", because she is upset that the person she loves is someone who is supposed to be her enemy, and she is questioning why that has to be so.)
Eventually, he makes his presence known, they talk more, fall even more madly in love, and agree to elope the next day. Romeo arranges for Friar-Laurence, a friend and priest to both families, to perform the ceremony in secret. The only guests at the wedding are Juliets nurse, and Romeos man servant, Balthazar. After they are wed, Romeo goes to tell his friends about it, but when he finds them, unfortunately, he also finds Tybalt, who challenges him to a duel. Romeo refuses to fight, but then Tybalt kills Mercutio (whose dying words were "A plague on both your houses")and Romeo is so angered that he immediately turns and kills Tybalt. When the prince of Verona finds out about this, he banishes Romeo , saying "if he is found, that hour shall be his last". Romeo then goes to the Capulets mansion, and climbs the wall to Juliets bedroom, where she is waiting for him, distressed but forgiving. The newly-weds spend what turns out to be not only their first, but last night together. Romeo leaves early in the morning, and sets off for Mantua. Then Juliets mother comes to her room, and tells her that she and Paris are to marry that Thursday. She begs for them to cancel, or even postpone the wedding, but they refuse. Juliet goes to see Friar Lawrence, and tells him that unless he can stop the wedding, she will kill herself. He comes up with a plan for Juliet tol take a potion that will make her appear dead, when in truth shell only be asleep, and after she is laid in the family tomb, it will be time for the potion to wear off, and shell wakeup. Romeo will know by his letters to come for her, and they can go and live in Mantua together until the situation has blown over. Juliet goes along with the plan. But, Balthazar happens to come along during her funeral and reaches Romeo with the bad news before the friar's letters arrive to explain it. They rush back to Verona, and when Romeo meets Paris at the entrance to the Capulet tomb, they battle, and Romeo wins. When he finds Juliet, she has not yet awakened. Believing her dead, he kills him- self with a vile of poison. Juliet soon awakens, and finding Romeo dead, she kills herself with his dagger. When they are found, the families realize the toll their hatred had taken upon everybody and each family offers to erect a statue to the others child and the feud is over forever.
This is probably Shakespeares most famous
play. It has been done as a movie many times over. The first one I saw starred
Leslie Howard (Ashley from Gone with the Wind) and he was too old and formal for the part,
which is supposed to be a young boy. Franco Zefferelli made a beautiful movie thirty
years ago, starring unknown actors who were very young and beautiful. I mentioned in
the introduction that West Side Story -- a broadway musical and then a movie, set the
Romeo and Juliet story in rival New York street gangs of the '50's,. Most recent
movie came out in April of 96, set with the style and violence of today's L.A. gangs
and starring Leonardo DiCaprio .(It has also had several parodies and adaptations made,
such as about a year and a half ago it was filmed with all the characters as cats.)
One thing that used to be very common in most movies of Shakespeare's plays was the casting of more experienced, and therefore older actors playing the main roles. Romeo and Juliet were young, which explaina the degree of their passion, and why they were under their parents rule. Fortunately in the 68 and 96 versions, the actors/actresses were the right age. This problem happens in several more of the plays I'm going to mention.
This glorious play is good for just about any age group, except for young children. I recommend that you see as many versions of it as possible, because its fascinating to see the different interpretations of it.
When the story opens, Hamlet is the prince of Denmark, whose father had recently died, and whose mother has just married his uncle, who has now become King in his brother's place. He'd been told of reports of his fathers ghost, and he waited for him to appear, which he did, telling him that hed been murdered by the uncle, whod poured poison in his ear while he slept. He orders Hamlet to get revenge. He decides to act crazy to catch his uncle off guard, but confuses and upsets his girlfriend, Ophelia, and his mother too. Ophelia's father, Polonius, who is always interfering, insists that Hamlet is crazy with love for his daughter. They decided to find out for sure. They set a trap, with Ophelia as the bait, and watch. He knows what Polonius is up to and so he says that he does not, nor has he ever loved her.
A troop of actors come to do a play for the king, so Hamlet sees his chance to reveal his uncle's crime. He alters the play, so that a character is killed in the same way that his father was. When it is performed, the king freaks out and leaves. Hamlet follows him so that he can kill him. He finds him praying, and decides to wait, so that theres no chance of him going to Heaven. Later, he goes to see his mother, but while he is talking to her, he hears a noise behind the curtain. Assuming its the king, but saying its a rat, he runs his sword through with out looking to see who is really there.. when it's Polonius who falls to the ground he is surprised, but doesnt carry the body away until he has made a long speech.
The king realizes Hamlet knows he's guilty, and he's ready to kill. So he gives orders for two of his friends, Rosencratz and Guildenstern, to escort Hamlet to the King of England with a sealed letter secretly requesting his execution. On the voyage over to England, Hamlet suspects something is wrong, so reads the letter while theyre sleeping, and changes it so that they will be the ones executed, and re-seals it with his father's ring. He then returns home.
Before he gets to the palace, he stops off at a graveyard, where he sees a funeral procession. He finds that it is for Ophelia (who lost her mind, after her boyfriend killed her father, and drowned.) During the service her brother Lysander jumps into the casket and Hamlet does the same, they begin to fight. Their quarrel is , but postponed until the next day for an official duel.
The king, in order to assure Hamlets death, poisons the tip of Lysanders sword, and has a back-up plan of a poisoned drink. They fight, and Hamlet is nicked by the sword, then the weapons are accidentally switched, and Hamlet stabs Lysander. The queen then drinks the drink and dies. Lysander knowing what has happened, tells hamlet about the sword, and how theyre both going to die, and that the king was behind it all. Hamlet then stabs the king, who dies, and then he dies as well.
There have been many versions of Hamlet, even going back to silent film. Sometimes famous actresses have played the role -- Sarah Bernhard, and Judith Anderson. Those movies were based on how well the speeches were given instead of how realistic it looked. The great stage and screen actor, Laurence Olivier, played Hamlet on film, but the production seems very stagey. The recent one with Mel Gibson in the part is filmed very realistically, but it's so natural that the acting was not exciting. But it was a little annoying that Hamlet and Lysander, who were supposed to be about the same age, were in actuality, about 20 years apart. That is not a definite number, but that was how it looked to me.
That movie was though, over all, very good, and interesting. I would recommend seeing it, though it is probably not best for small children, because its rather bloody and violent. If theyre interested, perhaps a live play where that much gore isnt possible, or a less upsetting older movie, would be more appropriate.
A Midsummer-Night's Dream:
There was a young girl named Hermia, who lived in Athens, Greece. Her father had betrothed her to Demetrius, but her best friend Helena was in love with him. Hermia was in love with Lysander, and he loved her as well. However, In Athens, there was a law that a girl had to marry who her father wished, or be executed. She was given four days to decided what she wanted to do, before the law was put into effect.
Lysander devised a plan, they would sneak off into the woods that night, and make their way to his aunt's house, for she lived in a town without this culprit law. Hermia told Helena, and she in turn told Demetrius, so that hed forget about Hermia and come back to her. This backfired, and he instead went into the woods to find his fiancÚ ( who was at that time sleeping under a tree with Lysander) and Helena followed him.
In the woods there were fairies. Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the fairies were fighting. Titania had raised a orphaned changeling boy away from everyone else in the woods. Oberon wanted the boy for a page, and Titania refused. The king came up with a plan. He sent his servant,, Puck (played by Mickey Rooney, as a child, in the movie) for a special flower. He then had the juice squeezed from that flower onto her eyes while she slept, so that shed fall in love with the first thing she saw when she awoke..
Oberon then saw Helena running through the woods after Demetrius, and took pity on her. He told Puck to put the same juice in Demetrius eyes so hed fall back in love with Helena. He told Puck that hed recognize Demetrius by his Athenian garments. Puck mistook Lysander for Lysander for Demetrius, and put the juice in his eyes. When he awakened, he saw Helena running by him, and fell in love with her. When Oberon saw what had happened he told Puck to put the juice in the correct man's eyes. This done, both men were in love with Helena, which surprised Hermia, and Helena thought they were teasing her and got angry. Puck later, at the request of Oberon, mad it so foggy that they could not see, and led them so that they were near each other when they fell asleep. He then put drops back in Lysanders eyes so that hed fall back in love with Hermia.
Meanwhile, Oberon put a donkey's head on the body of a comical character named Bottom nearby, and placed him by the Queen so that shed fall in love with this ridiculous freak. This worked, and Titania and Bottom went back to sleep in each others arms. Oberon came along, and corrected his wife for her ill behavior, and she was so embarrassed that she gave him the changeling boy, as hed planned. He then re-dropped her so that shed love him again, and removed the mismatched head from poor Bottom.
They then went to check on the human lovers whod sorted out everything so that Lysander and Hermia, and Helena and Demetrius were together. Because Demetrius no longer wanted to marry Hermia, her father consented to her marriage to Lysander. The fairies were very happy, and had a big celebration.
This play is wonderfully
entertaining, and wacky, and makes a little more sense in performance than on paper. It is
terrific for any one of any age. Young children would probably enjoy a movie where the
magical fairy woods can really come to life, more than a live performance. probably the
easiest version to find would be the 1935 with: Dick Powell, Olivia de Havelin,
James Cagney, and Mickey Rooney The soundtrack plays classical music composed for
Midsummer Night's Dream a hundred years before, by Felix Mendelssohn and the special
effects of movies make the fairies more magical than could be done on stage.
MacBeth was a high ranking Scottish officer, and a friend of the Kings.
One day he was returning home from battle, and walking through the woods, and met a small coven of witches. they called him many wonderful titles hed not yet received, including "King".
Soon one of those titles was given to him, he was surprised and told his wife about the witches' prediction. She was as impatient as she was ambitious and said that he must become King. Of course, in order to do this hed have to kill the King, and his heirs.
Soon after, when the King came to visit, MacBeth went the room where he was sleeping, and stabbed him to death. This done, he was too dazed to carry out the rest of their plan, which was to frame the servants by smearing the bloody daggers on them and then killing them, as if in anger for their crime. In his absence of sanity, his wife had to take over the job.. The Kings sons escaped.
MacBeth then assumed the throne. Lady MacBeth soon
went crazy with guilt tortured by the blood she kept seeing on her hands no matter how
much she washed them, and while hallucinating, killed herself by falling to her death..
MacBeth was pretty distressed but when he asked the witches for more advice they told him
that he'd be safe until the forest (Birnam Wood) climbed up the hill to his castle,
basically meaning the same thing as "when pigs fly". When he was still
unconvinced, they told him that "No man of woman born" would harm him.
But, things worsened when he killed his best friend, Banquo, whose ghost then appeared at council meetings and one day, some soldiers covered in leaves and branches for camouflage, came sneaking up toward the castle for MacBeth. From his window, this appeared to be the forest coming up the hill.
Directly after, MacDuff entered his chamber and
challenged him to a duel. He explained the prophesy that no man of woman born could harm
him but MacDuff was apparently a caesarean baby and therefore not technically
"born". This news was too much for MacBeth, who is killed by MacDuff.
This is a very interesting story, but nor for young children. A play would probably be less distressing, for lack of special effects, but in my opinion, it would still be too bloody, frightening, for someone to young to understand it. For anyone else though, I would certainly recommend it. It should not be difficult to find, for many versions have been produced, starting at 1911, to the most recent, done last yea One film, produced and directed almost 60 years ago by Orson Welles (famous for Citizen Kane) uses film technology and lighting to help dramatize the story.. The video is available for fans of Shakespeare and great acting as well as artistic movie-making. Another famous film director, Roman Polanski, made a version of this over 20 years ago, filmed on location. It makes fantasy seem realistic.
Othello is a famous general, who is also a Moor (from North Africa) gets the beautiful, wealthy Desdemona, who is much younger than he is, to fall in love with him, and they secretly marry. Her father is very unhappy when he finds out about this.
Iago and Roderigo, two apparent friends of Othello, hatch a plan to destroy their marriage, by making Othello believe that Desdemona is having an affair with his friend Claudio..
Iago asks his wife, who is Desdemanas lady in waiting, to steal her hadcerchief for him. This done, he gives it to Claudio, who in turn gives it to his wench. Iago tells Othello of Claudios brief possession of the handkerchief, and of its new owner, along with other "evidence" of an affair. He eventually convinces Othello, who is mad with jealousy, to strangle Desdemona, and that hell take care of Claudio. Sadly, both these killings take place.
When the lady-in-waiting finds out, she is shocked,
and says that she knows her mistress could not be untrue. Othello tells her of the handkerchief. She then began to explain her
involvement in this, but is stabbed in the back ( literally ) by her husband ( Iago )
mid-speech. Othello is so upset, that he kills himself.
The violence in this play is actually kept to a
minimum, so its all right for anyone but the very young. It is very dramatic and
fascinating. The Orson Wells version, is really terrific, the lighting, and the camera
angles are the best part of it, in my opinion. Its a great play over all, and anyone
whos interested will enjoy it, but the beginning will be a little bit boring if you
prefer fast paced things.
The Taming of the Shrew:
The Taming of the Shrew is about a girl named Katherine, called "Katharina/ Kate the Shrew", because she had a fiery temper. She had a sweet, mild younger sister, Bianca, whose father would not allow her to marry until Kate got a husband first.
Petruccio, from another town, had heard of "Kate the Shrew", and decided that marrying and taming her would be a good challenge (not to mention the large dowry). He came into their town of Padua, went to her house, and asked her fathers permission to court her. He spoke with her for a while, she was very feisty and quarrelsome. When her father returned, he told him that shed agreed to marry him the next Sunday.
He showed up for the ceremony wearing raggedy clownish clothes, and after the ceremony, refused to take part in the wedding feast, saying that he wanted to get Kate home.
When they arrived he threw out her food, and messed up her bed, saying that they were unfit, so she had to go hungry, and sleep on a chair. He spent days just yelling, and cursing, and insisting that she agree with everything he said.
When he thought that she was obedient enough, he took her to see her father. At his house, he met Biancas husband and the husband of her friend. They made a bet to see whose wife would be the most obedient. They were amazed at Kates new personality, and Petruccio won the bet. He and Kate lived happily together everafter.
Since there is obviously no bloody violence in this play, Id say that its fine for everybody. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in a movie of this play. with great color, scenery, costumes and wonderful acting. There are also scenes from this play in the '50's film of the musical , "Kiss Me Kate", where it's done as a play within a play. Some of the lyrics in the stage version are not suitable for children, though.
Julius Caesar was a great, conquering general who became the ruler of ancient Rome. Hed been declared dictator for life, and recently been offered kingship by his friend Mark Antony, but had turned it down. Fearing his power, several of his associates, including his friend Brutus, plotted to kill him. Brutus didnt really want to do this, but finally went along with the planning, but his wife, Portia, noticed him acting strangely.
The day before a big counsel meeting, an old sooth-sayer called out to him from the roadside, to "Beware the Ides of March". Caesar called him over and the man just repeated it two more times, so Caesar continued on his way. That night, Caesers wife, Calpurnia, had a nightmare that hed been murdered, and she was very upset. She begged him not to go out, but he said he would not hide in fear, if God's purpose was that he should die that day. Then household servants found something strange which the augurs interpreted as danger for him Calpurnia, hearing this, begs him on her knees to stay home for her sake, so he agrees.
When Brutus comes to escort him, Caesar tells him why he's not coming and relates Calpurnia's dream of him with blood spurting out of multiple wounds. Brutus re-interprets the dream to symbolize Caesar being a source of life-giving blood to Romans. So, he convinces him to go.
Outside the meeting place, he is surrounded by his friends and stabbed to death by them on the steps.. When he received the final stab ( in the stomach ), he said his most famous quote, "Et tu Brute", -which means in Latin, "and you Brutus" - shocked that his friend would take part in his assassination.
Mark Antony, not one of the plotters, finds out
what happened and requests to give a short eulogy in Caesars honor. Brutus agreed,
on the condition that hed make his own speech on the matter before hand. In his
speech he said that they killed Caesar because he was too ambitious, and the people
eventually agreed, but then in his speech, (one of the most famous in all Shakespeare:
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!"),Mark Antony said that such an
ambitious person wouldnt turn down the crown, and the people agree with him.
This causes a bit of a war. Portia is so upset that she kills herself.
Brutus is driven mad by Caesers ghost, and is losing the war, so, with the help of his friend, he kills himself.
This play is extremely bloody and depressing. The movie version that I have seen, with Marlon Brando, was jumpy, and hard for me to follow, although it had a cast of famous movie stars and English Shakespearean actors who did a good job. It seems to me there is very little development of characters that seem as though theyre going to be central to the plot, such as Portia,- and there arent many of the long poetic speeches that Shakespeare does best, until the end..
Id only recommend this movie (also available on video)if you are extremely interested and well prepared by studying the play
Other Shakespeare movie roles that starred Laurence Olivier are, "Richard III", and "King Lear", both tragedies. Kenneth Branagh has recently made a movie about King Henry IV But these are probablly not the best big screen introduction to Shakespeare's plays. The ones I discussed are better for that purpose, and I believe Romeo and Juliet does that best - alias, "Juliet"