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Shakespeare in film

Shakespeare’s plays have inspired an extensive amount of other writers and playwrights over the course of time. However, the written medium is not the only one out there. The visual medium has, in a hundred years’ time, made a striking difference in the way stories are portrayed. The question is how well Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted to the silver screen. In this text will be discussed whether or not film accepted the telling of Shakespeare like he meant it or if they have chosen to leave his influence aside.

First of all, there have been faithful adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Just recently, Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard playing the leading roles, premiered at the Filmfestival Cannes in France. However, this is not the only example out there. Countless plays of Shakespeare have been turned into films. Greatly inspired by the author was the flamboyant actor and director Kenneth Branagh, who has turned six plays into films and playing roles in over twenty of them. He has stated that “Shakespeare is still going to be inspiring a filmmaking generation for a long time, however there is no fixed way to do it.”

have been used as a firm base for a story multiple times. Twelfth Night, a play in which the relationship between gender and sexuality is explored, served as an inspiration to the makers of the romantic comedy She’s The Man. In this movie a girl, named Viola, dresses herself up as a man to attract the attention of a soccer player. The influence is striking, with examples like the soccer team that is called Illyria, in the Shakespearian play the city in which the character of Olivia is stranded when her ship breaks down. Some characters such as Olivia, Viola and even Duke also carry the same names as in the play and they play the same roles. The film is a case of an the story in the present time, but still exploring the theme of gender identity that was part of the original performance. Finally, Shakespeare as a person has also played a role in certain aspects of visual media.

In the film Anonymous, with Rafe Spall playing the role of the famous playwright, the question is asked whether the plays were actually written by Shakespeare at all. In this setting the plays were in fact written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, played by Rhys Ifans. The theories about the identity of Shakespeare are plenty. Numerous scholars have investigated, whether Shakespeare was the man how historians describe him, or that Shakespeare was actually a woman. By portraying him as a fraud, and using this as a tag line for promoting the fi lm, it drew the attention of a large audience. The writer has also encountered the Doctor on his time travelling journeys in the BBC hit show Doctor Who, in the episode The Shakespeare Code. In this story, one of Shakespeare’s plays sets in motion a witch attack, that the Doctor has to stop from happening. This can only happen if the play, called Love, Labours, Won (a pun on the play Love, Labours, Lost) is never performed.

The greatness of Shakespeare has already been made clear by the numerous quotations and many references in modern literature. However, from these examples it can also be concluded that the writer has been of influence in film and TV. Shakespeare conquered the rigors of time once more.

By Daan de Witte


Mazer, Cary M. “Great Dane” City Paper. 23 Jan. 1997. Web.