Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

The Plays we Film

Film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays appear regularly each year. Some of the plays get more attention than others – I mean, just look at the wikipedia lists of film adaptations for Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and especially Hamlet! There was definitely a lot of (deserved) hype this summer for Joss Whedon’s independent Much Ado About Nothing, but nothing matches the well-trod tragedies for film popularity.

Even so, I was surprised to see that not one, but two new film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet are in the works this year. One is the highly publicized adaptation by Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes, and the other is a… well… an operetta set in a trailer park in New Zealand? The former is certainly much more faithful to the text, but the latter has this vitality about it that reminds me of some of our student performances at the Festivals – the inspiration of imagination and making the text one’s own.

I’ve seen students present R&J on our stage as a comedy (with a little death at the end), as a serious love story, as a story about swords (with a little love thrown in), as characters from Twilight, as modern teenagers, and just about everything in between. Every class that presents the same play brings something different to the table, just as every film director will bring something new to light in their vision of the play on screen.

I, personally, can’t get enough of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, but I am surprised by how much we’re still making the same ones! Why do you think that is? What plays would you like to see made into screenplays? I’m going to begin a push for Cymbeline, I think…

And can I mention just how much Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth look like Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting?


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