About This Site
I am here attempting to provide as complete a survey as practical of the currently available versions of Shakespeare’s plays on mass-market tangible media. My main goal here has been to gather and organize information from various sources and make it available to teachers, students, and other interested individuals in homes and schools of every sort, in the hope that watching more Shakespeare will enhance appreciation of this remarkable body of work — both the plays themselves and their profound performance legacy.
Watching a play on film or television is fundamentally different from watching the same play live on the stage, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Even filmed stage productions lack the essential immediacy of live theater. If you’ve never seen a Shakespeare play live, do so when you can. Nothing you will find here is going to be the same kind of experience. Toby Widdicombe, in his wise and unpretentious Simply Shakespeare (pp. 186-7), enumerates some of the many differences between filmed performances and live ones, while not dismissing the value of either.
For each play (listed down the left) I have tried to give an introductory sense of the lay of the land. All the plays have at least one version available. Some fields are fairly crowded; others are not. There are nearly two dozen versions of “Hamlet” currently available, and more in production; there is also a variety of peripheral works. There is only one version of four of the others (“King John”, “Pericles”, “Timon of Athens”, and “Troilus and Cressida”). Perhaps that will change. Some plays offer particular mine-fields, while others are relatively tractable. On some I have a fair amount to say; for others I have very little. I may change any of this as other things occur to me about a play. On the right side of the window, I have listed the productions by year and director; those links will bring up a focused discussion of the production. Where relevant, I have also listed at the end of each cluster other derivative works that may not be close enough to be called productions of the play.
For each production, (listed down the right once you’ve selected a play) I have tried to provide some basic data, including the date, the director, and the cast. If I have not seen the film (all the way through — not just some representative snippet — that’s all I’ll say, unless there are other objective facts to report. Where I’ve seen more (and for most of these I have), I try to provide my own perspectives and views. This is still a work in progress; I’m still producing my evaluation of a number of them. Those opinions may include some (usually fairly perfunctory) discussion of individual performances, overall dramatic conception, production approach (whether a wholly cinematic product or a filmed stage play, etc). For parents and teachers, I also try to provide fairly even-handed information about what they may or may not find appropriate for family or school viewing (nudity, violence, language, etc.). I have not made it my business to censor anything. Beyond that, I have added other comments more or less ad hoc, as they seemed useful to me. Finally, where the work is currently for sale, I’ve tried to give you a pass-through link to a vendor. Such a link is for your convenience and does not in any way constitute a particular endorsement of the film. These are not yet complete, but I am adding to them. Scholars Online (a non-profit educational corporation) gets a small percentage from sales through Amazon from our sites, which will go to our scholarship fund. If you choose to use them, it will cost you nothing extra; we thank you for your support. Other links provide us no tangible benefit, but we hope they will make the site more useful to you. If there is no link, you may find that the only source for these is the library.
This is a work in progress. I have not yet been able to post comments on all the versions listed here, but I am continuing to work on them as my teaching and other duties allow time. Keep coming back to check for more. If there are particular plays you want me to discuss, let me know; I can take them on in any order (though I usually like to see several different versions of the same play back to back: it heightens my own awareness of the relative strengths and weaknesses of them individually).
It probably need not be stated that the opinions expressed are my own. You need not protest if yours differ; that’s the nature of opinions. I make no pretense of objectivity or evenhandedness in my evaluations, I merely claim that they are honestly derived from having watched the movies with some attention. Some of them I have seen a dozen times; some of them were a trial to watch even once. If I haven’t seen the movie, I present the data without any opinions, though on some pages I may report some factual data, including the cast, if possible, and something about how the version can be acquired. In the tenuous matter of formulating advice, my tendency has been to lean toward the needs of the relative novice, who has not necessarily seen these plays before. Mostly, however, I consider my role as that of conveyer of information and facilitator of the process, who would prefer to let you make up your own mind about things.
I have not tried to evaluate these films the way a film or drama critic might, partly because rating works of art doesn’t interest me much, but mainly because it’s not the point of this website. I take it as axiomatic that these plays are all susceptible to varied interpretations, and that, within a certain reasonable range, the diversity of performance is itself a good thing, irrespective of my own personal taste. Even those that don’t resonate with me will often open an interpretive window that enlarges my understanding. Of course, the boundary of the “reasonable range” is necessarily subjective matter. For me, it has to do with whether the film seems really to be showing Shakespeare’s work and ideas. Those productions that are using the drama chiefly as a springboard to a separate artistic program are usually of little interest to me, and, even if they might have genuine artistic merit, they are not especially relevant here: my agenda in putting this site together has been to enable more people — students and teachers in particular — to discover the core of the Shakespearean corpus. For me, digging into this material has been a lifelong quest, and the deeper I get into it, the more intriguing I find it.
If I have missed a film I should have seen, please do not hesitate to let me know.
This website is dedicated to the memory of Anne Wallach, a remarkable woman and teacher of literature. I never took a class from her, but she first introduced me to Shakespeare when I was yet in elementary school, igniting a passionate interest that has lasted my whole life.