Department of English
Choate Rosemary Hall
Shakespeare and the Death of Kings
Spring 2012 term
Some Thoughts On Shakespearean Film
First of all, it would be a huge mistake to watch film adaptations as a substitute for the careful reading of any of the plays we are studying this term. You just won't be able to absorb the necessary detail you'll get from a serious engagement with the actual texts. On the other hand, there are lots of wonderful ways in which a thoughtful viewing of filmed versions of Shakespeare's works will enhance your appreciation. But you should regard these cinematic renditions as supplements, not substitutes, for the assigned reading.
The assignments below deal with a variety of renditions on the original source material. By their nature, filmed versions of Shakespeare's dramas do not seek to transcribe live performances of the plays--as is the case with most television productions--but to translate the works into cinematic language. The films suggested below are from different eras and even different cultures: some follow the text of the play almost word for word; most cut and rearrange the text to some degree; several dramatically change the setting, and a few not only change the setting but modernize the dialogue and rename the characters. It is impossible to draw a clear line between such free adaptations and films which are only "inspired" by their Shakespearean source.
You are tasked to write a review of 1–2 pages in length. It must have a clear thesis, arguing some significant point about what you have watched. Your goal should be to discuss significant choices on the part of the filmmakers in adapting the play. This means that you will be making direct comparisons between the play's text and scenes or even individual shots in the film. You can’t possibly cover everything, so you will need to narrow your focus to certain aspects of the adaptation. There are endless possibilities for analysis:
You probably want to zero in on one scene or character, or to one aspect of the filmmaking (e.g., use of color, costumes, or camerawork). In any case you should discuss what the filmmakers chose to emphasize and also consider what was left out.
You may, if you like, make use of other sources, such as books on Shakespeare films, articles, or DVD commentaries, to provide background information, to support your own arguments, or to present a viewpoint opposed to your own; in any case, it will be essential to document your sources carefully, including citation of page numbers.
Assume your reader has read the plays and seen the films, so you can move right into your analysis without a plot summary.
Extra Credit Assignments
Cinematic Shakespeare II: Extra Credit Assignment #1. [optional]
Watch and write a review of either Orson Welles' 1965 film Chimes At Midnight or Gus Van Sant's 1991 film My Own Private Idaho. Copies of the Welles film are hard to find, but I own a DVD you can borrow. Chimes At Midnight focuses on the character of Falstaff and draws from material in five different Shakespeare plays (but principally both parts of Henry IV). The Van Sant film loosely sets Prince Hal's story in Portland, Oregon, circa 1990 (and I'll caution you in advance that aspects of the film may offend the sensibilities of the more prudish among you). Your analysis may be submitted for credit any time through April 26 (the day we return from Long Weekend break).
Cinematic Shakespeare III: Extra Credit Assignment #2. [optional]
Watch and write a review of either Laurence Olivier's 1944 film or Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film of Henry V. (If you have the time and really want to impress, watch both and compare!) Olivier's take on the story is very much a product of wartime England; in fact Winston Churchill encouraged Olivier to make this film to boost morale and the British government provided partial funding. Branagh's version of Henry V kicked off something of a Renassaince in Shakespeare-themed filmmaking in the last two decades, highlighted by a Best Picture Oscar for Shakespeare In Love (1998). Your analysis may be submitted for credit any time through May 10.
Cinematic Shakespeare IV: Extra Credit Assignment #3. [optional]
Watch and write a review of either Laurence Olivier's 1955 film or Richard Loncraine's 1995 film of Richard III. The latter stars Ian McKellen in the title role. (If you have the time and really want to impress, watch both and compare!) Your analysis may be submitted for credit any time through May 24.
Cinematic Shakespeare V: Extra Credit Assignment #4. [optional]
Watch and write a review of Akira Kurosawa's 1985 film Ran, which sets the story of King Lear in feudal Japan. Your analysis may be submitted for credit any time through June 3, the last day of exam period.
Copyright © 2010-2012 Ned Gallagher. All rights reserved.
Last revised: April 5, 2012