For me, April is Shakespeare’s month. I’ll be writing several Shakespeare-related posts this month, starting with Shakespeare in the movies.
According to tradition, William Shakespeare was born and died on Saint George’s Day, April 23. I find it poignant that one of his characters, Cassius, also dies on his birthday:
This day I breathed first: time is come round,
And where I did begin, there shall I end; –Julius Caesar V, iii
A popular academic pastime has been–and continues to be–arguing that someone other than the man from Stratford wrote the plays because the “real” Shakespeare was too uneducated and homebound to have come up with such language, geographical references, and classical allusions. It’s one of the oldest conspiracy theories in existence.
The official Shakespeare canon includes 16 comedies, 10 histories, 12 tragedies, 154 sonnets, and five longer poems.
Writers have been mining the Shakespearean canon for 420 years and show no signs of exhausting it. Movie makers have been at it for 111 years. The first known film to make use of a Shakespeare play was a British production made in 1899. Only a two-minute scene survives, showing Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree acting the death scene of King John from the play of the same name.
Hollywood has produced at least 250 films based on the plays or on characters or plots from the plays. Of Hamlet alone, close to 100 movie and TV adaptations have been made since 1907. Not just English-speaking movie makers raid the canon. Ran, for example, is a Japanese movie that sets King Lear in feudal Japan and turns Lear’s daughters into sons.
Here are some movie titles followed by the name of the Shakespeare play that inspired them:
A Double Life (1947) Othello
A Thousand Acres (1997) King Lear
All Night Long (1962) Othello
Catch My Soul (1974) Othello
Forbidden Planet (1956) The Tempest
King of Texas (2002) King Lear
Kiss Me Kate (1948) The Taming of the Shrew
Let the Devil Wear Black (1999) Hamlet
Men of Respect (1991) Macbeth
My Own Private Idaho (1991) Henry IV and Henry V plays
Ran (1985) King Lear
Romeo Must Die (2000) Romeo and Juliet
Scotland, PA (2001) Macbeth
She’s the Man (2006) Twelfth Night
Strange Brew (1983) Hamlet
The Boys from Syracuse (1940) Comedy of Errors
Tower of London (1939) Richard III
Were the World Mine (2008) A Midsummer’s Night Dream
West Side Story (1961) Romeo and Juliet
Yellow Sky (1943) The Tempest