Shakespeare on Film and Video

I find Shakespeare difficult to read until I have seen a performance of a given play. Since live productions are very rare where I live, I have to rely on movie versions. In this realm I'm not a very critical viewer, being grateful for what I can get. Popular films usually abridge the text considerably and take other liberties.

A word regarding the BBC Television Shakespeare series: the entire canon was produced for television in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Shot on video, the plays usually have simple staging and very good actors. The individual programs are of varied quality, but some are quite good and all are worth viewing. This is the only way one can ever see some of the rarer plays. The texts are also more complete than is usual for movie versions.

There are also good Shakespeare audio-tapes. See Shakespeare on Audio.

This page is permanently "in progress". I frequently add new entries and revise old ones as I see new films and revisit previous ones.

I also keep Jane Austen film reviews on a separate page, as well as Classic Literature on film for everyone else (Dickens, Trollope, etc).


Antony and Cleopatra


Antony and Cleopatra. 1973. Directed by Charlton Heston. Starring Charlton Heston, Eric Porter. IMDB details.

Lush production, well-executed and photographed. Much dramatic elaboration; the text and characters are shuffled and consolidated. For example, Antony makes his own way to the tomb. The party on Pompey's boat drops most of the lines.

Eric Porter is very effective as Enobarbus.

1974-Johnson, Suzman, Stewart

Antony and Cleopatra. 1974. Directed by Jon Scoffield. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Rather good made-for-TV version shot on video. Period costumes and bare stages. The Egyptian scences often have a soft ring around the lens; I don't know why.

The principals are all good: Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman, with Patrick Stewart as a boisterous Enobarbus. Young Ben Kingsley appears as Thyreus, the Roman messenger who is whipped.

At two and a half hours, they still drop quite a bit of text, including the passage on Pompey's galley when Menas suggests cutting the throats of the guests. And I didn't hear the lines

Eros, thou yet behold'st me?
[...] here I am Antony:
Yet cannot hold this visible shape

which seem to me as eerie as the bit in A Midummer Night's Dream when the lovers awake in the woods, speak to the Prince and then turn to each other to ask

Are you sure
That we are awake? It seems to me
That yet we sleep, we dream.

This is a puzzling play; an odd combination of farce and tragedy. Antony shows no sign of being the great general history and the other characters suppose him to be. That's part of the joke: like Hercules spinning with the Amazons or Achilles hiding among the women, Antony has lost all martial valor by hiding out in Egypt. And yet he has Thyreus whipped for "harping on what I am / Not what he knew I was."

Shakepeare also delves deep into sexual psychology: "she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies" is a persistent male fantasy.

1981-BBC Television Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra. 1981. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced and directed by Jonathan Miller. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Strangely frivolous, dully comic version. No appealing characters. There is not much tragedy in Antony's decline, as he seems to have had no nobility to begin with.

I rather like Ian Charleson as Octavius: cold, hypocritical, the seeds of political greatness sprouting.

Jane Lapotaire (Cleopatra) played Charmian in the 1973 Heston version.

1983-Dalton, Redgrave

Antony and Cleopatra. 1983. Directed by Lawrence Carra. Starring Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Sadly, I am not able to review this title because the DVD copy was unwatchable. The picture was zoomed in to the top half of the frame and had severe distortions. This is certainly a manufacturing problem. I wrote to Kultur Video but received no reply.

As You Like It


As You Like It. 1936. Directed by Paul Czinner. Starring Laurence Olivier. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

This could have been a decent version. The biggest flaw, obscuring all others, is the director's wife. She barely speaks English, shows little acting ability, and is nothing like Rosalind. I had not realized how much a German accent sounds like "hooting".

Much condensed. I particularly missed Jacques' judgment of the newlyweds.

1978-BBC Television Shakespeare

As You Like It. 1978. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by Basil Coleman. Starring Helen Mirren. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

The first half is a bit painful to watch. Unusually for the series, the outdoor scenes are actually shot outdoors and don't look very good on video. It is also odd to see "stage" acting in the woods. The director simply has not "staged" the scenes very well.

The story actually picks up a bit after the women change clothes and arrive in the forest. The darker natural lighting helps. Hymen looks like he wandered in from some nearby party.

1983-Stratford Festival

As You Like It. 1983. Directed by Sam Levene and Herb Roland. Stage direction by John Hirsch. This title does not appear in the IMDB database.

Part of the "Shakespeare Collection" from the Stratford Festival in Ontario, a live production shot on video.

The first half is unaccountably grim, lightening up quite a bit in the forest. The costuming is an odd nineteenth century continental mixture.

The Comedy of Errors

1983-BBC Television Shakespeare

The Comedy of Errors. 1983. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series.Produced by Shaun Sutton. Directed by James Cellan Jones. IMDB details.

Relatively restrained production, some funny bits. The Mime Troupe used for background doesn't add much.

The Antipholi and the Dromios are played by one set of actors; the Dromios by rock star Roger Daltrey. The masters have distinct personalities but I can't tell the servants apart. Cyril Cusack and Wendy Hiller appear as the parents.

Adriana, Luciana and the Courtesan have impressive decolletage.

1987-Flying Karamazov Brothers

The Comedy of Errors. 1987. Directed by Gregory Mosher and Robert Woodruff. Starring the Flying Karamozov Brothers and other troupes. IMDB details.

This is the vaudeville acrobatic "Live from Lincoln Center" production of fond memory. I don't know if it was broadcast more than once; a commercial version has never been available.

For such a boisterous and chaotic production, a surprising amount of the text is included. The bawdy content is just about right; more would be too much. Lots of people want to make slapstick stage comedies -- here are the pros who can do it well. Amazing juggling and tumbling.

Younger viewers may wonder who "Ollie" was; 1987 was the year of the Iran-Contra scandal.

Great fun. It ought to be available commercially, but one fellow who researched the matter said he couldn't even discover who owned the copyright.


1984-BBC Television Shakespeare

Coriolanus. 1984. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Shaun Sutton. Directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Alan Howard as Caius Marcius. Joss Ackland as Menenius.



Hamlet. 1948. Directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Compared to contemporary styles the performance seems quite restrained, but is very properly done. A nice balance between theater staging and cinema technique. Good gloomy sets. As usual the story falls apart in the second half.

The ghost is very eerie. It is startling to see Jean Simmons (Ophelia) in blonde braids. No Rosencrantz, Guildenstern or Fortinbras.


Hamlet. 1964. Directed by John Gielgud. Starring Richard Burton. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

I had never heard of this before it appeared on DVD, a stage presentation filmed before a live audience. It is in black and white, perhaps because color would have required more light than was available in the theater. The effect is much more like being in a theater than watching a film, although it is a bit disconcerting because the angle and zoom do change. The actors project their voices and enunciate for the large space, also unusual in film. Almost bare staging and contemporary casual dress. The text is rather complete and the film is just over three hours long.

This is a remarkable effort, as close as you will come to seeing a top-notch Shakespearean stage production at home. As such I am inclined to consider it the benchmark Hamlet on film.

Richard Burton as Hamlet and Hume Cronyn as Polonius are the only vivid characters, and Cronyn without Burton is pretty dry. Together they have remarkable comic chemistry. This is the first time I have laughed out loud at the Hamlet-Polonius dialogues. Small comic bits are inserted throughout the play where I would not have expected them.

It is Burton's show. He gives fine readings of many passages. For example, this was freshly illuminated for me as an example of Hamlet's morbid sexual and religious imagination:

Ham. Ay, sir. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man pick'd out of ten thousand.

Pol. That's very true, my lord.

Ham. For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion- Have you a daughter?

Pol. I have, my lord.

Ham. Let her not walk i' th' sun. Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to't.

The problem with Burton is that he often seems overconcerned with the musicality of his voice to no good purpose. He shouts and punctuates strangely, sometimes with a very harsh edge. A stage production is always a work in progress and perhaps he would have done it differently the next night. A scene in the 1998 movie The Impostors has an awful Hamlet played by a famous drunken Brit ("Jeremy Burtom") hamming it up for the American audience, a lampoon on Burton and perhaps on this very production.

The bit with the gravedigger is unusually jocular.

To me, Hamlet is one of the least enjoyable of the often-performed plays. I sometimes wonder if it doesn't consist of scraps from Shakespeare's wastebasket.


Hamlet. 1969. Directed by Tony Richardson. Starring Nicol Williamson. IMDB details.

Modestly budgeted but with rich, dark color in costumes and sets. Good reading. A speedy performance, at under two hours. On that basis alone I would recommend it to those who want a first film Hamlet.

Oddly, Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude all seem to be about the same age. No Fortinbras. The king prays briefly, but Hamlet is not there to watch him.

Nicol Williamson brings great focus and concentration to his Hamlet. His voice often goes unpleasantly nasal and reedy. His delivery is sometimes so rapid-fire as to be unintelligible.

Marianne Faithfull is a provacative Ophelia, in a rather good performance considering she was only a semi-pro actress. Her madness is effectively calm and coherent.

Anthony Hopkins is a disciplined Claudius, losing control only during "The Mousetrap". His court would be a jolly one if it weren't for Hamlet.

It was a joy to see Roger Livesey (First Player and Gravedigger) again. I enjoyed him in several Powell/Pressburger films of the 1940s. His voice had become quite hoarse by 1969.


Hamlet. 1976. Directed by Celestino Coronada. Starring Helen Mirren. IMDB details.

I would define "art film" as: snippets and speeches from Hamlet fit into 65-minutes of weird-god-help-us video overlay and irritating sound. The quality of my tape was so poor that I couldn't make out some of the intended video effects.

Hearing that this was the famous "Naked Hamlet" I was hoping for naked Helen Mirren, but no such luck.

As I've said before, I have a hard time sitting through experimental presentations, but on the other hand there is undeniable value in hearing the words and seeing the relations in new and unexpected settings. Every such effort can provide new insights.

1980-BBC Television Shakespeare

Hamlet. 1980. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by Rodney Bennett. Starring Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Claire Bloom, Eric Porter, Lalla Ward. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A very strong production with excellent interpretations by the major characters. Derek Jacobi is a melancholy and self-pitying Hamlet, with a tendency to rave and ham it up. Claire Bloom's Gertrude is intelligent and rather mysterious.

Patrick Stewart is a tightly controlled Claudius. Watch his response at the end of the "Mousetrap". Usually the king is hysterical, near breakdown when he screams "Give me some light." Stewart delivers the line quietly, firmly, recognizing that Hamlet is his enemy.

The bedroom scene after Polonius is killed has so much shrieking that I couldn't follow the lines.

1990-Zeffirelli, Mel Gibson

Hamlet. 1990. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Starring Mel Gibson, Alan Bates, Glen Close, Ian Holm, Helena Bonham Carter. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Finely photographed with an abbreviated text, somewhat scrambled in order. Hamlet's soliloquy comes after his blowup with Ophelia, for example. His first "mad" encounter with her is shown rather than described. No Fortinbras.

Elsinore is shown as more of a community than is usual; this is the Italian influence: their castles and courts are always filled with life.

Hamlet is a thinker who is reluctant to play his part in a revenge story. Mel Gibson is an action hero who has not demonstrated such reluctance. It is natural to wonder if he isn't miscast, but in reality he does an acceptable job, although better in the first half than in the second. It is very hard for a celebrity with such "star power" to fit into ensemble work, and difficult for the viewer to accept him.

A strong cast otherwise. Paul Scofield is almost hypnotic as the suffering Ghost. Glen Close's Gertrude has turned girlish in her second marriage. Ian Holm's Polonius is not such a fool as he is commonly played; his possessiveness towards Ophelia seems miserly. And are those chicken bones mad Ophelia uses for her "flowers"?

1990-Kevin Kline

Hamlet. 1990. Directed by and starring Kevin Kline. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Made for television and shot on video. Truncated text, but slowly paced nevertheless. The second half seems marginally better than the first, which is unusual.

Most of the cast are adequate at best, verging on poor. I don't want to be cruel to Kevin Kline, but both his directing and acting are dreadful. He uses an affected accent, cries rivers several times, and performs what might in other circumstances be a lampoon on bad Hamlets. There are truly shockingly bad moments in this presentation. The text itself damns them:

O, there be players that I have seen play, and heard others praise, and that highly (not to speak it profanely), that, neither having the accent of Christians, nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of Nature's journeymen had made men, and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably.

The coherence of the story is a problem at the best of times. The director and actors must somehow convey a continuity from moment to moment, linking the scenes by some thematic consideration: revenge, or love, or "remember me" or something. That is totally missing here. I've never seen a play so totally lose the object of the performance.

For a comparison of how good a made-for-tv Hamlet can be, see the Campbell Scott version done about ten years later.


Hamlet. 1996. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Kate Winslet. IMDB details.

A mighty attempt at a mighty long play. At four hours, it is certainly complete.

I hadn't previously imagined Hamlet and Ophelia rolling in bed in a soft-porn scene. Some segments are hugely overblown, such as the "swear by my sword" bit after Hamlet's first encounter with the ghost, as well as his meditation on seeing Fortinbras' army.

Much of the ghost's first speech is barely intelligible. In an interesting twist, Ophelia is forced to read the love letter aloud; the narration passes from her to Polonius to Hamlet and back to Polonius again. Fortinbras invades Denmark without any apparent opposition; what happened to those war preparations?

Derek Jacobi is a raging Uncle Claudius with a bit of the Prussian about him, probably due to the uniform and haircut. As always, his voice and diction are the clearest of the entire cast. It is interesting to compare this performance with that of the 1980 television version where he played Hamlet and Patrick Stewart was Claudius.

It is difficult to critique such a mammoth production; I've forgotten the beginning by the time we reach the end. Branagh is a muscular, vigorous Hamlet with not much of madness about him.


Hamlet. 2000. Directed by Michael Almereyda. Starring Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Much abridged version more-or-less translated to the corporate towers of modern New York City. Similar in conception to Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, if less frenetic.

My first response to this sort of production is disorientation and embarassment when the text fits so poorly with modern morals and aesthetics. Spiritual shallowness is the characteristic of the age and much of Shakespeare is a lost language in modern performances. Ethan Hawke sometimes has a juvenile brooding intensity, but that's about it. Do we really believe his Hamlet struggles with the same issues and to the same degree as Shakespeare's?

On the other hand, placing the text in new (even if inappropriate) settings sometimes causes bits to stand out and be revealed in fresh ways. Bill Murray's Polonius is an eccentric interpretation, but I think a fine one. Polonius is too often a stock character taken off the shelf as needed.

Kyle MacLachlan's Claudius-as-vicious-businessman is decently done, but lacks the character transition which occurs after the king's failure at prayer. Laertes has a similar transition into dark villainy, but the text is less clear here. Ophelia's madness must be the agent, but I've never seen the mechanism shown.

2000-Campbell Scott

Hamlet. 2000. Directed by Campbell Scott. Starring Campbell Scott, Blair Brown and Roscoe Lee Browne. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

I was skeptical at first (Hamlet's mourning-headband didn't help) but I quickly came to like very much this finely photographed version, shot on film, set in a warm, green Denmark (actually Long Island, I believe). This is a remarkably intelligible reading of the text and the film might be a good first Hamlet for students. It is set in the early twentieth century.

Generally restrained and sensitive performances. It is implied that the Ghost actually drives Hamlet mad. Campbell Scott's bit of Hamlet-as-drama-coach brings in some welcome comedy. Roscoe Lee Brown is an very dignified Polonius, unimaginative but not at all transparent. Ophelia's "St. Valentine's Day" song is remarkable.

Jamey Sheridan is the scariest Claudius I recall. His expression at Ophelia's "My brother shall hear of it" is priceless: a sort of "Of course. I knew that was coming."

Somewhat abbreviated text with key scenes out of order. Inexplicably, Gertrude's description of Ophelia's death is dropped. The vocabulary is updated in several spots, for example "drabbing" becomes "whoring", "Danskers" becomes "Danish", and "Switzers" becomes "soldiers".

I found the score distracting at first, but came to like the piano and drum combination.

2009-David Tennant, Patrick Stewart

Hamlet. 2009. Directed by Gregory Doran. Starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. Available on DVD and Blu-ray. IMDB details.

Oliver Ford Davies

Henry IV Part 1

1979-BBC Television Shakespeare

Henry IV Part 1. 1979. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by David Giles. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Strong performances by several leads:

Jon Finch plays King Henry in a very grand, theatrical style. This contrasts with the more naturalistic Eastcheap scenes. All the court scenes are very formal and Henry is properly a "Great Man" of history. This approach could easily have failed but Finch masters it. He is the only actor who continues from Richard II in the same series.

David Gwillim's Prince Hal is sharply intelligent and affable, but also exploitative and cruel. He is a strange mixture of frivolity and sincerity. He is going to be King and the common rules don't apply to him. I don't recall if the text supports it, but the exchange of glances during Hal's interview with his father suggests that the friction between them is due to Hal's belief that Henry does not have the crown legitimately and is responsible for the murder of Richard. Nonetheless he shows strong loyalty to his father, although his reforms come slowly.

Anthony Quayle is a great clownish Falstaff, always deferential to Hal. He makes the part look easy.

I would have picked someone other than Tim Pigott-Smith for Hotspur; he needs more of the warrior image. He is properly hot-headed but seems frantic and spindly. At his death he has so much blood in his mouth that his lines are hard to understand.

Henry IV Part 2

1979-BBC Television Shakespeare

Henry IV Part 2. 1979. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by David Giles. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Same cast as in Part 1. The best parts are the King's declining health and the Eastcheap scenes, as well as Falstaff's visit to the country justices. Anthony Quayle makes Falstaff more predatory, perhaps even sinister. When he exults at the King's death, saying "the laws of England are at my commandment", we realize that he is a fool.

Pistol is properly a lunatic. Watch the little curtsey Doll Tearsheet gives Hal; no one notices.

Some thoughts about Hal's rejection of Falstaff. How could it have been otherwise? Any new leader faces the same dilemma: he either advances his old cronies and is derided for having "favorites", or he leaves them and manages everyone's affairs as justly as possible and is called "faithless". Giving Falstaff a pension and promise of promotion given good behavior was the best Hal could do.

Henry V


Henry V. 1945. Directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Imaginative production, ranging from the Globe playhouse to outdoor battle scenes. Some of the intermediate sets have a fairytale look which is incongruous in Shakespeare. The cavalry charge at Agincourt was copied, I think, in Braveheart fifty years later.

The characterizations shift as much as the staging, from comic and very "theatrical" presentations, to realism and back again. Robert Newton is a memorable Pistol.

The Globe setting is great fun, with the audience cheering their favorites and lamenting for Falstaff.

Falstaff is inserted briefly, but the arrest of the traitors and bloodcurdling threats at Harfleur are skipped. No mention of hanging Bardolph.

1979-BBC Television Shakespeare

Henry V. 1979. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by David Giles. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Same cast as in Henry IV. David Gwillim is both more serious and less interesting as King than as Prince Hal. Is it possible to do both roles as the same character?

I found Fluellen's beating of Pistol hard to watch; it is a degrading scene.

The greater part of the terrorizing Harfleur speech ("Your naked infants spitted upon pikes") is omitted; even the Branagh version has more. The BBC series text is not as complete as I supposed.

A travelogue aside: I am told the actual city of Harfleur has now sunk beneath the waves.


Henry V. 1989. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Brian Blessed, Emma Thompson. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Gorgeous, very exciting production. Top-notch casting. Patrick Doyle score. This is the first time the Homeric nature of the invocation ("O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention") was brought home to me.

Incidents from Henry IV are scrambled in and other liberties taken. The Archbishop's lecture on Salique Law is unexpectedly serious and menacing; obviously a loyalty test for the King's minions. All of the Eastcheap characters are played very soberly, particularly Pistol; in the text he is more of a clown and often seems a bit deranged. Robbie Coltrane is too young to be Falstaff.

The comical and verbose Fluellen (Ian Holm) is made serious and terse. In such a admiring portrait of Henry, there is no room for the author's wry comments on the nature of greatness:

Gower. [...] wherefore the King most worthily hath caus'd every soldier to cut his prisoner's throat. O, 'tis a gallant King!

Fluellen. Ay, he was porn at Monmouth, Captain Gower. What call you the town's name where Alexander the Pig was born?

Gower. Alexander the Great.

Fluellen. Why, I pray you, is not 'pig' great? The pig, or great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the magnanimous, are all one reckonings, save the phrase is a little variations.

I always find the wooing of Katherine to be a clumsy scene. When did the lively Prince Hal become a plain and simple soldier?

Finally, why kill Nell Quickley? It seems all the Eastcheap characters end badly in this play. They must have been favorites of the audience, but Shakespeare shows no mercy.

Henry VI Part 1

1983-BBC Television Shakespeare

Henry VI Part 1. 1983. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Directed by Jane Howell. Produced by Jonathan Miller. IMDB details.

A lively production of an early, somewhat cumbersome play. Many familiar faces. The same director and cast do all three Henry VI parts and Richard III. There are some cast doublings in each part, which I found a bit confusing -- why was Vernon giving away Margaret of Anjou? Why was the Mayor of London creeping around a French fortress?

They use more comedy than I would have expected -- but what else can you do with all the "alarums and excursions"? The comedy helps the pacing. David Burke and Frank Middlemass are hilarious when jostling each other with their toy horses. Lots of sex comedy with the very keen Joan, adventuress. The scene where she pleads for her life (and her unborn child's?) is both comic and pathetic, turning in the end rather spooky.

Just as the play is somewhat jumbled, so is this production, with a range of tones. There are hints of a play-within-a-play motif. Talbot's death is very dramatic and bloody.

I'm always amazed -- and appreciative -- when seeing plays that get much good from text that seems dull on the page.

Henry VI Part 2

1983-BBC Television Shakespeare

Henry VI Part 2. 1983. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Directed by Jane Howell. Produced by Jonathan Miller. IMDB details.

A direct continuation of the previous play, with the same director and cast. Bloodier, less comic, with increasing sadism, and the set begins to show the wear and tear of time and battle. Susan Willis's book, The BBC Shakespeare Plays: Making the Televised Canon, has a chapter on Jane Howell which gives interesting details on her approach to this cycle.

Many cast doublings again. David Burke is murdered as the Duke of Gloucester, but soon reappears as Dick the Butcher. Trevor Peacock, Talbot in the last play, becomes Jack Cade here. He displays demonically manical ravings during the scenes of destruction. This is Peacock's last appearance in the cycle.

In early Shakespeare histories the common folk are mostly fools and knaves. More development comes later, as with the denizens of Mistress Quickley's place. In later plays the Cade segments would be more evenly distributed.

We have a rich set of scheming villains here. The speeches are longer and better, but the plot is still fairly flat. Somerset and Margaret show a surprising amount of honest passion.

Michael Byrne plays many roles in this series. More recently he seems to appear as a sort of stock villain, but here shows great range. As the pirate leader is impressively sinister.

Many nice little touches, as with the expression on the country squire's face, having brought in Cade's head for his reward, wonders what he has gotten into.

Four severed heads, two kissing.

Henry VI Part 3

1983-BBC Television Shakespeare

Henry VI Part 3. 1983. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Directed by Jane Howell. Produced by Jonathan Miller. IMDB details.

Henry VIII

1979-BBC Television Shakespeare

Henry VIII. 1979. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by Kevin Billington. IMDB details.

Well-presented version of a play usually described as "pomp and pageantry". The actors make the most of the limited story. Nice settings, large rooms and natural sound. Quite a few scenes are shot outdoors and the subdued lighting helps the video image.

Someone noted that Shakespeare's sympathies in this play are with those on their way down, and here the performers give us very nice interpretations: Julian Glover (Buckingham), Claire Bloom (Katharine), and even Timothy West as the unlovable Wolsey. John Stride as the king is certainly not on his way down, but plays a fierce Henry.

This late play has many references to older ones, particularly to Richard III, from early in the author's career. Richard executed Buckingham, and the son of Buckingham is killed by Richard's great-nephew.

The insertion of the episode involving the Archbishop of Canterbury towards the end makes no sense to me.

Julius Caesar


Julius Caesar. 1970. Directed by Stuart Burge. Starring Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, John Gielgud. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Respectable, colorful version, with the surprising flaw of Jason Robards' very wooden Brutus. Heston, wearing a bad wig, does well playing against type as the cynical Antony. Richard Johnson is an intense, emotional Cassius.

1979-BBC Television Shakespeare

Julius Caesar. 1979. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by Herbert Wise. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Solid production, good reading, quality sets and much more dynamic camera work than is usual for the series.

The assassination of Caesar seems to be the central moment in the literary representations of antiquity, serving the same purpose as the Incarnation in Christianity. History is divided into a "before" and an "after"; before the assassination we have the virtues of the old Roman Republic. After: the Empire, then decline and fall. Ironically, the assassins thought they were preventing tyranny and would be so revered in later ages. This production very strongly presents that day as a "hinge of history", with all its supernatural portents and intimations of large-scale forces of fate looming behind the scenes.

King John


King John. 1899. From the Silent Shakespeare compilation. Directed by William Kennedy, Laurie Dickson, and Walter Pfeffer Dando. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

This is just a 2-minute fragment of a very short production, but it is the first Shakespeare on film. It is the last scene of the play, when King John is dying:

There is so hot a summer in my bosom
That all my bowels crumble up to dust.
I am a scribbled form drawn with a pen
Upon a parchment, and against this fire
Do I shrink up.

According to Kenneth S. Rothwell:

The search for the best available means to translate Shakespeare's words into moving images began in 1899 at the London studio of the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company. Pioneering film photographer William Kennedy Laurie Dickson recorded four scenes from Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree's Her Majesty's Theatre stage production of King John. After being exhibited in 68mm "widescreen" at London's Palace Theatre and elsewhere, the four-minute movie disappeared until 1990, when a scene, which depicted the poisoning of the king in the orchard at Swinstead Abbey (Act V, scene 7), turned up in Amsterdam's Nederlands Filmmuseum. In the remarkably clear British Film Institute restored print, Sir Herbert as the dying monarch writhes, squirms, and twists in agony while three anxious courtiers look on.

As cinema King John achieved little more than did the primitive "actualities" (i.e., brief footage of parading soldiers and umbrella dancers) being shown between the live acts in London and New York vaudeville houses. Like all turn-of-the-century movies, the Shakespeare film still hadn't reached the stage of telling a story in pictures. </BLOCKQUOTE>

One of the "courtiers" is actually Prince Henry, played by Dora Senior (or Julia Neilson, according to the IMDB).

The stage version must have been a famous production; an annotated Shakespeare by A.L. Rowse has several photos and a drawing of Sir Herbert, perhaps from this very scene.

King Lear

1910-Lo Savio

King Lear. 1910. From the Silent Shakespeare compilation. Directed by Gerolamo Lo Savio. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

From Italy, 16 minutes long, filmed on stage and outdoors. Much of the film is hand-tinted, giving it a pastel colorized look reminiscent of religious "chromos".

Lear vividly pantomimes his cursing of Goneril. No storm is provided, but the actors pretend they have one. In a long inserted bit, Lear compares his daughters' hearts to a stone he picks up on the road. His reunion with Cordelia is touching and her death is properly done, although Lear drags her rather than carrying her. Gloucester and his sons do not appear at all.

1971-Peter Brook

King Lear. 1971. Directed by Peter Brook. Starring Paul Scofield. IMDB details.

A very dour production filmed in wintry Denmark, alternately realistic and stylized. The plot is trimmed and a bit scrambled. Extraordinary black-and-white imagery, framing, and texture.

It begins inauspiciously with almost somnolent performances. Lear's throne seems to be a hollow tree and he wears a robe that makes him look like a hunchbacked bear. But the film opens up and becomes quite gripping. The slow, sober presentation gives great concentration to the text (as much as remains). Scofield seems to have gone very deeply into the role. Lear's passage "I will have such revenges on you both", usually done as a blustering rant, is here delivered with chilling calm.

I am always impressed at how consistently sinister Patrick Magee (Cornwall) is in all his roles.

There is too much charging about on the plains to no purpose. The camera work sometimes drifts into a too-clever "art-film" look, with a floating, drifting perspective later used in many TV commercials.

I've never understood those who say the play has nothing but despair. If Lear and Cordelia had not been reconciled, if Gloucester and Edgar had not been reconciled, if Lear had not achieved some self-knowledge, if Albany had not switched sides, if Kent had not stayed true and courageous, if Edmund had not had second thoughts before he died: that would have been a dark play.

1974-Joseph Papp, James Earl Jones

King Lear. 1974. Produced by Joseph Papp. Directed by Edwin Sherin. Starring James Earl Jones and Raul Julia. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A live stage production shot outdoors at night. Although an open-air performance does not allow the subtleties of interpretation of a smaller one, this effort works pretty well. The sound is particularly good, given the circumstances. The text is mostly there.

As Lear, James Earl Jones has both blustering rages and delicate fits of madness. I particularly enjoyed the "Down from the waist they are Centaurs" passage, which is usually bitter and obscene, but which here becomes a pathetically comic bit. He seems angry with Cordelia from the outset, a setup I don't recall seeing before.

Raul Julia is lethally handsome and suave as Edmund. I'm afraid Paul Sorvino was a poor choice for Gloucester; his delivery is terribly flat and all his lines are ruined. We could have used a livelier Cordelia, also.

For no reason that I can see, Edmund and Edgar fight blindfolded.

1976-Patrick Magee

King Lear. 1976. Starring Patrick Magee. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Fairly dull made-for-TV production, shot on video. Truncated text, dropping many of the best passages.

Magee's strong face and presence are a handicap here; he doesn't show much flexibility, although he gets better as he grows more mad. Honestly, though, his Lear is not much different mad than when sane. Funnier when mad. The text has a good amount of comedy in the "hovel" trial scene after the storm.

The daughters and Cornwall should be much more sinister than shown here.

1982-BBC Television Shakespeare

King Lear. 1982. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Directed by Jonathan Miller. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Excellent production, strong cast, with a leisurely pace that gives a clear interpretation of the rather complete text. The visual composition is spare but sometimes striking; it makes me wish the series had been done on film instead of video. Elizabethan costumes.

Most of the cast give relatively restrained performances. The exceptions are Michael Hordern as Lear and Frank Middlemass as the Fool who both have ample opportunity to shout and bluster. And, of course, Anton Lesser who, as Edgar and Poor Mad Tom, can't help it. As always, the yelling scenes decrease intelligibility. The storm is always a problem.

Lear has a Fool of his own age. Both spit quite a bit when ranting. Hordern seems to intentionally drain some of the pathos and romance from his role, mocking the sensitivity sometimes given to the king's madness. Michael Kitchen gives a slyly comic Edmund, dapper and patronizing. When reading the play I imagine Cordelia as more of a warrior queen upon her return, but here, as usual, she is presented as meek.

Kent is always a favorite role, an "interesting" hero, rough and admirable, and John Shrapnel is strong in it.

Small bits: In the text, the word "nothing" has a loaded meaning in the first third, but which is seldom noticed in performances I've seen. They cover it here. And watch how the Fool is honestly shocked by Lear's cursing of Goneril. Finally, in a seldom-seen bit at the beginning of Act II, Edmund speaks briefly with "Curan, a Courtier" (his only appearance) who does a very decent "Edmund" imitation!


King Lear. 1984. Produced by David Plowright. Directed by Michael Elliott. Starring Laurence Olivier, John Hurt, Diana Rigg, Leo McKern, Colin Blakely. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Made for television, shot on video with simple staging. I like Leo McKern and Colin Blakely as Gloucester and Kent very much. Both Edmund and Edgar are played too "light". John Hurt's Fool seems on the verge of a breakdown. Diana Rigg relishes the role of a villainous daughter ("Let him smell his way to Dover").

Olivier's is the hardest performance to critique. Lear is supposed to possess both authority and frailty. Here he has the latter in abundance but little of the former; during the first half it is hard to know if we are seeing Lear or rather Olivier playing some version of his aged self. Undoubtedly there is power and pathos in his plea "Let me not be mad."

When he appears in Act IV ("fantastically dressed with wild flowers") it seems like a new performance. His knowing ravings are wonderful, as when the madman comforts the blind man:

If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes.
I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloucester.

The violence done to Gloucester suggests the inefficacy of Good. Now and then a new breed emerges and the old guard is unprepared for the extreme measures the new crew will use.

1997-Ian Holm

King Lear. 1997. Directed by Richard Eyre. Starring Ian Holm. IMDB details.

A very good reading by a strong cast. Made for television, simple staging and costumes. Somewhat abbreviated text.

Ian Holm is a fiercely vigorous Lear. The older daughters show how difficult he is to deal with, and how they have cause to be angry with him, without softening their calculated cruelty. Barbara Flynn (Goneril) is particularly hurt by his curses. Amanda Redman (Regan) projects a dangerous sexual heat which is clear in the text but sometimes not shown in performance.

I had imagined Gloucester's sin to be vulgarity and a callous indifference to the feelings of Edmund. Timothy West plays him a bit differently, and quite well: as having quiet contempt for his son, not imagining this will ever reflect back on him. Gloucester retains his diginity even when blind and I think because of this, and because some of his dialogue with Edgar is omitted, that his turn-around and reconcilliation are not clearly shown. Similarly, Edmund's regrets when dying are skipped over rather quickly.

Michael Bryant communicates the Fool's jibes more effectively than I recall seeing before. An idea: since he and Kent are both trying to protect Lear, would it work to have the Fool recognize the disguised Kent? Could Gloucester be included in that little conspiracy, just as he is in the great one of trying to save the King?

In the storm Lear says he will pray, but this is the first time I have seen the following lines ("Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are") actually delivered as prayer.

I missed Edmund's soliloquy:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc'd obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Fut! I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.

Love's Labour's Lost


Love's Labour's Lost. 2000. Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Not much original text survives in this 1930s-style zany musical. Because of its dense text, the complete play probably can't be done as a feature film. It's a bright, if not completely successful, experiment.

I don't mind the sometimes amateurish singing and dancing, or the choice of music, or changing Holofernes' sex. I enjoy films from the 1930s and am happy to see the genre recreated. I think Branagh could have worked on the comic elements a bit more.

His own performance is similar to his Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. (Of course, there are parallels between Berowne/Rosaline and Benedick/Beatrice). The camera isolates on him when it is time to recite a bit of Real Shakespeare.

Alicia Silverstone's interpretation of a modern silly Princess is just as I would have wanted it, but for some reason doesn't quite work. Her mobile face reminds me of Lucille Ball.

Tacking on the happy reunion at the end contradicts the title. Still, as a romantic comedy vehicle, it serves pretty well.

* * *

After several more viewings, I find this becoming one of my favorite films. My former reservations fade away. It's not so much the Shakespeare content (although that is always intriguing) that I enjoy, as much as the amazing sub-creation of a 1930s romantic fantasy. A whole little world, delightfully realized.

However: I don't need to hear "There's No Business Like Show Business" again -- ever.


1948-Orson Welles

Macbeth. 1948. Directed by and starring Orson Welles. IMDB details.

Dark, atmospheric and mythically quite powerful. Dunsinane Castle is a great surreal rocky cavern. The plot is a bit scrambled, but pretty well covered. The actors attempt Scots accents.

Some notable bits: Lady Macbeth wilts at the word "barren" when her husband says:

Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe

(No, she's not in the scene in the text). It is clear that Banquo's ghost is summoned to the banquet by Macbeth's injunction "Fail not our feast." Macbeth comes upon his wife at the end of her sleepwalk; she awakens and runs screaming from him.

Curiously, Banquo is shown as a schemer after Duncan's death. I would play his verdict on "honor"--"So I lose none / In seeking to augment it" -- as a polite refusal of Macbeth's offered bribe. And another passage is often skipped over:

God's benison go with you and with those
That would make good of bad and friends of foes!

Ross and Macduff have quarreled and the Old Man tries to reunite them, hoping to save something from the coming civil war.

Very little of the Porter, nothing of Donalbain. Malcom's final speech is dropped. In MacDuff's "And let the angel whom thou still hast served", "devil" is substituted for "angel". Are movie audiences not presumed to know that Satan is fallen Lucifer? (Malcom: "Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell").

I would like to see the final third done differently some time. The invasion of Scotland is the Harrowing of Hell, and should move faster and faster, ending at its climax in Malcom's victory.


Macbeth. 1971. Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Jon Finch. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Very strong but rather brutal production. Beautiful, if grim, photography. Intelligent reading. Realistic sets and costumes. Much of the text is done as voice-overs, giving the director great flexibility in staging. Duncan and Lady Macbeth both are younger and more eager than is usual. That the invading soldiers have a supernatural dread of Macbeth is well presented.

I wish I could see more of Jon Finch in Shakespeare. This role and his Henry IV are both quite good.

This is the first time I've seen Duncan murdered; I think it was a mistake to show it. Having Lady Macbeth sleepwalk naked is just titillation. I don't see why Macduff's son is shown naked in his bath. Some of the gruesome special effects are probably due to the cinematic trendiness of the period when censorship standards were being relaxed.

Lady Macbeth's madness comes upon her suddenly. Comments of the observers show more wryness than awe. Banquo and Fleance are attacked in daylight. Malcom doesn't test Macduff. And: is that Donalbain visiting the witches at the end?

1979-Ian McKellen

Macbeth. 1979. Produced by Philip Casson. Directed by Trevor Nunn. Starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. IMDB details.

This is one of the better made-for-television versions. Shot on video. I saw it when it was first broadcast and had remembered it fondly, when, amazingly, it appeared on video tape twenty years later. The tape itself is of rather poor quality, but the production gets many things right. Too often, Macbeth is shown rolling his eyes and twitching with madness as if he had a mental disorder. McKellen plays him as a man working hard to maintain his villainy; if he simply stopped he would recover and become "sane" again.

I liked Bob Peck's Macduff very much. Upon hearing of the murder of his entire family, he is shocked into a distracted mildness that seems to presage mental collapse.

Banquo's ghost is not shown. The final third is greatly abridged.

1983-BBC Television Shakespeare

Macbeth. 1983. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Shaun Sutton. Directed by Jack Gold. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Uneven production with many unsubtle readings. Nicol Williamson snarls and wheezes. He has one very good bit: his vision of Banquo's descendants stretching into the future (a passage often dropped) clearly links Macbeth's failure and barrenness with his damnation.

Neither Banquo's ghost nor the apparitions are shown. Fleance is a member of the invading army and from the tableau at the end we surmise that he will challenge Malcom for the crown.

I noticed one passage for the first time, MacDuff's:

If thou best slain and with no stroke of mine,
My wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still.

One can imagine a version where the invaders are lead by their own supernatural forces just as Macbeth has been mislead by others.

I suppose one problem with doing Macbeth is that the play is so brief and well-known that one is caught between reciting it as a formula or striking out into totally eccentric interpretations.

1998-Sean Pertwee, Greta Scacchi

Macbeth. 1998. Directed by Michael Bogdanov. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Fast-paced, modern dress version in a gritty urban warfare setting. Fine cast, especially the two leads. More Greta Scacchi, please.

The final act is much compressed, but that is very common with this play.

Measure for Measure

1979-BBC Television Shakespeare

Measure for Measure. 1979. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by Desmond Davis. IMDB details.

Strong production, although I like the first half more than the second. Kate Nelligan is superb; her serious and intelligent demeanor is perfect for Isabella. John McEnery plays Lucio, "a fantastic," with gusto and wit. Kenneth Colley is a dapper Duke, sometimes suspect in his motives and methods. Tim Pigott-Smith is good as the stiff, proud Angelo, although I don't find his struggle with his lust or surrender to it very convincing. Although it is a small part, Christopher Strauli makes Claudio appealing as a young man who, having done as millions have done before and since, finds himself in peril of his life. Frank Middlemass is a gamy Pompey the clown.

This is one of the very great plays; I don't know why it isn't more often performed. Perhaps this is the wrong century for it. Chastity and holy vows, the sin of pride, the role of legitimate authority: such concerns are now hard to fathom. Times change; perhaps in the next century there will be a revival.

Interpretation of the story depends on how we judge the character of the Duke. If he is a meddlesome busybody, we see the play one way; if a wise, just prince, we see it another. This production leans more to the latter approach.

Harold Bloom on the one hand claims this play is one of his favorites, but on the other that everyone in it is insane and that the plot makes no sense. That is not very helpful. He also makes too much of Barnardine, who has only seven lines.

I found Martin Lings' brief Christian analysis in The Secret of Shakespeare to be more interesting in this case. I had taken the play as a moral little tale of how when shame is lost, justice fails also. (Indeed, I was thinking of recent [1998] examples of the connection between sexual incontinence and fitness to govern). Lings adds quite a bit more:

What is traditionally known as the 'descent into Hell' is termed so because through it the lower possibilities of the soul are revealed. But the modern development of psychoanalysis makes it necessary to explain that this first phase of the mystic path is radically different from any psychoanalytic descent into the subconscious. Psychoanalysis is largely a case of the blind leading the blind, for it is simply one soul working upon another without the help of any transcendent power. But initiation, followed up by the devotional and ascetic practices that are implicit in it, opens the door to contact with the perfecting and unifying power of the Spirit, whose presence demands that the psychic substance shall become once again a single whole. The more or less scattered elements of this substance are thus compelled to come together; and some of them come in anger, from dark and remote hiding-places, with the infernal powers still attached to them. From this point of view it is truer to say that Hell rises than that the mystic descends; and the result of this rising is a battle between the 'mighty opposites', with the soul as battleground. The mystic fights, by definition, on the side of Heaven; but the enemy will spare no stratagem to seduce him into fighting on the wrong side.

In no play does Shakespeare represent more clearly than in Measure for Measure the dangers of the spiritual path. At the outset of the path the perverted psychic elements are more or less dormant and remote from the center of consciousness. They must first of all be woken and then redeemed, for they cannot be purified in their sleep; and it is when they wake in a state of raging perversion that there is always the risk that they will overpower the whole soul. This is what happens with Angelo; but in his case it is necessary that he should be overcome for a while by his lower self in order that his pride may be broken; and in the end he is saved by his basic sincerity which calls down a Divine Grace personified by the Duke.

But this doesn't quite capture the story either, as it does not account for why Lucio and Pompey and Barnadine are so entertaining, or why we suspect the Duke of bad behavior.

Finally, I can accept a lot in the way of plot machinations, but the Duke's offer to Isabella at the end seems like an error. You would have to have some foreshadowing of his appeal to her; given that she has known him only as a friar, that would be difficult. Still: the text doesn't say she accepts his offer, which is some relief.

DVD: single layer, meaning too much compression. No subtitles.

The Merchant of Venice

1910-Lo Savio

The Merchant of Venice. 1910. From the Silent Shakespeare compilation. Directed by Gerolamo Lo Savio. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

From Italy, 10 minutes, filmed indoors and out. Similar color-tinting as used in the director's King Lear in this same collection. I don't know if it was filmed in Venice, but there is a real canal in one scene.

Shylock is a comic villain, an obstacle to be overcome. Portia is introduced late; nothing of her caskets. The story stops abruptly during the trial.


The Merchant of Venice. 1973. Directed by Jonathan Miller and John Sichel. Starring Lawrence Olivier, Joan Plowright and Jeremy Brett. IMDB details.

Made for TV, shot on video. Fairly lavish Edwardian costumes and sets. An enjoyable, somewhat abbreviated production.

Olivier's Shylock is alternately debonair and pathetic. I can't place his accent. He wears prominent false teeth that change his appearance dramatically. Contrary to what I had heard, this production is no more sympathetic to Shylock than others I have seen. The music at the end hints that he is dead.

Jeremy Brett has considerable experience with Bassanio: he also plays him in an audio tape production from the 1960s. His Bassanio is callow but basically decent, honestly shocked and disturbed by what is done to Shylock. Perhaps he reconsiders the wisdom of being "bought" by a rich wife.

I imagine Portia and Nerissa with more of a "girls just want to have fun" spirit. I don't think the bits with the caskets work very well here; they try to insert comedy which protracts the scenes too long. Although: the absurd rendering of "Tell me where is fancy bred" suggested to me for the first time that the lyric contains hints for Bassanio as to the correct choice: "bred", "head", "fed".

Jessica's elopement is dropped and other scenes consolidated. Very little remains of Launcelot Gobbo and nothing of his father. Jessica is plausibly melancholy, although I would not play her so. Why did they drop the funny lines:

Nerissa. Why, shall we turn to men?

Portia. Fie, what a question's that, if thou wert near a lewd interpreter!

I am always struck by how well-matched are Antonio and Shylock in the degree of their spitefulness.

1980-BBC Television Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice. 1980. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Jonathan Miller. Directed by Jack Gold. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A stagy but decent production. In balancing the offenses of Shylock and the Christians most of the comedy has been eliminated. Although, from our perspective, it is hard to find the comedy here.

Warren Mitchell gives Shylock a very thick, ethnic Yiddish/German interpretation. His combination of wickedness and pathos is well presented. In an interview, Mitchell said that the play is so perfectly constructed that he didn't feel the need add any defense of Shylock or somehow make him seem better than he is.

I imagine Portia differently than Gemma Jones plays her. She should be more assertive and clever, with an appetite for fun and adventure. Jones has her best moments as Balthasar the judge; the scene before the Duke is the best part of the play. Shylock makes a good point then: the Venetian gentiles have slaves and therefore tacitly admit the propriety of owning other men's flesh.

John Franklyn-Robbins is a proper Antonio: the role requires a noble, reserved demeanor. Harold Bloom insists that Antonio and Bassanio are romantically joined. I don't see much evidence in the text, but it can be played that way quite subtly, and I think they may do that here.

For some reason, when reading the text, the Belmont where Lorenzo and Jessica live and where the married folk reunite seems to me an entirely different place than the Belmont where Portia lived with the caskets. It becomes the "beautiful mountain" where love is fulfilled.

It is hard to know what Shakespeare intended. I want to think of the play as another romantic comedy with Shylock as a comic villain, but the text gives him too much pathos and gives too much darkness to the protagonists. I would like to see if Bloom's idea could work: do it as a 1930s Cole Porter or Irving Berlin "anything goes" extravaganza, where all the Venetians are amoral and giddy and money-mad. Shylock would appear as the bumpkin, a sinister but comic obstacle to be overcome.

As for anti-semitism: yes and no. Shakespeare is contrasting the Old Law of justice and vengeance with the New Law of mercy. That the Old Law contains no mercy and its adherents are incapable of it is a prejudice on his part. But his bias is not racial or ethnic: his Christians all like Jessica. Producer Jonathan Miller says the play is about anti-semitism (and Jewish suspicion of Christians) but is not itself anti-semitic. That is perhaps the most optimistic interpretation, making this a dark comedy indeed.

To say that the gentiles are as merciless to Shylock as he is prepared to be to Antonio is not true: Portia gives him several chances. And once in their power, Shylock is not killed by the Christians, as he was going to do to one of their members. After saving Antonio, his friends are unnecessarily vindictive; that's Portia's doing.

2001-Trevor Nunn

The Merchant of Venice. 2001. Produced by Andy Picheta. Directed by Trevor Nunn. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A rather good two and one-half hour production, somewhat abbreviated (no "The man that hath no music in himself, / Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds, / Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils"), and is set in a sort of Weimar "Cabaret" milieu. It is staged and shot on video, although they seem to be using a high-resolution video technique that has nicer dynamic range than the old gear. (I confess I'm ignorant of modern video equipment and digital image processing).

As I've come to expect, clown Gobbo's role is much reduced and his father eliminated. The usually comic casket scenes and played a bit more seriously, especially with Morocco, who Portia rather likes. Unaccountably, the potentially very funny final scene with the rings is done as drama; the movie ends with Jessica singing a dirge.

This version plays up an unrequited romantic attachment of Antonio toward Bassanio. This is used to good effect in the trial, when Portia's sympathy for Antonio is increased when she understands that he also loves her husband. Why is Portia always more interesting when she's the judge than when she is the rich heiress?

One can imagine a version where Antonio, Lorenzo and the others are a cynical homosexual cabal exploiting these rich women. That would be a dark play. It would work even without the sexual element -- the men are certainly gold-diggers.

Henry Goodman's Shylock is a strong performance, fierce and unapologetic. He tries something here I've often wanted to see: even at the moment of the execution, Shylock himself is uncertain whether he will actually go through with it. Portia is willing to let this go so far, but must call a halt because she can't trust him at the final moment.

2004-Radford, Pacino

The Merchant of Venice. 2004. Directed by Michael Radford. Starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Rich production, fine cast, abbreviated text. A good reading, well integrated into the realistic dramatic action. The opening is marred by some inserted sociological drivel -- Christian intolerance is a continuing theme. As usual most of the comedy has been removed, a bit remaining attached to the caskets. Gobbo and father appear briefly and have been stiffened up.

Many good moments: we see Antonio spitting on Shylock, a scene later described in the text. Antonio's fate hangs over the somber wedding. Does Portia wonder about his relationship with her husband? The film closes with Shylock being shut out of the temple and Jessica looking regretful.

Powerful courtroom scene. Shylock appears willing to carry through with the sentence. I think the Duke ought to see through Portia's disguise, but he apparently does not, nor does he advise "Antonio, gratify this gentleman, / For in my mind you are much bound to him." The wives are not allowed their comments on the husbands offers to sacrifice them.

What a truly great play, and what a problem for us. These days Shylock always becomes the center of the story; is that the best way to do it? How to retain the comedy? Our lovers are all very mixed in their virtues and vices, what to do about them?

It was watching this that it first occured to me how much the author rewards those who risk everything: Antonio, Bassiano, Portia, Jessica.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

1970-Bard Productions

The Merry Wives of Windsor. 1970. Directed by Jack Manning. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

From "Bard Productions", featuring the Shakespeare Society of America. A stage production shot on video. Plain and simple, this does not make for riveting viewing, but that is the nature of the format. Farce always looks like amateur theatrics to me.

A nice touch: Falstaff accepts his humiliation at the end with grace and humor. He is a "big" man.

Harold Bloom's contention that this Falstaff is an impostor, unworthy of the rogue he loves, is ridiculous. He takes the character more seriously than did his creator.

A Midsummer Night's Dream


A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1909. From the Silent Shakespeare compilation. Directed by Charles Kent. Available on DVD. `IMDB details <

From the US, 12 minutes long, filmed outdoors. Ancient-looking constumes; Titania resembles Athena. Not a very enchanting version, although Bottom and company are good. Inexplicably, Oberon is replaced by another fairy called Penelope! Puck flies on wires and looks like he is dropped pretty heavily once. We see him flying over a cylindrical map of the world. The movie ends before "Pyramus and Thisby" is performed.

Kenneth S. Rothwell notes that by 1910, J. Stuart Blackton's Vitagraph Brooklyn studios had produced ten one-reel Shakespeare films, including this one:

In a technical innovation, Vitagraph broke away from the Broadway theatre by moving the camera off the stage and out of doors into the city parks. Brooklyn's Prospect Park served as one location for A Midsummer Night's Dream, which included Maurice Costello and his small daughter, Dolores, later an adult screen star in her own right.


A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1935. Directed by Max Reinhardt. Starring James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Mickey Rooney. IMDB details.

Lavish, unique production. I think I see the look they were going for, but I don't think they quite hit it. The goal was to present nineteenth century fairy drawings (the only way naked women could be presented during that period) on film, with a touch of Maxfield Parish in the daytime backgrounds.

James Cagney as Bottom is the best part of the film. His ass's head is a complete covering and is a bit scary.

Mickey Rooney as Puck: what to say? All the speaking fairies seem to be trying to use non-human speech patterns, but the result is that it is not certain the actors know what they are saying. Who gave Rooney that awful shriek he uses? On the other hand, his bits with the lovers as they finally go to sleep are truly funny.

Olivia de Havilland is quite fetching, but none of the young lovers are very memorable.

"Pyramus and Thisby" is slapstick from start to finish; usually it turns serious at the end.

1968-Peter Hall

A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1968. Directed by Peter Hall. Starring Diana Rigg, David Warner, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A fairly stiff reading, but pretty complete text. On one hand, the Rank Films color photography has a gorgeous old-fashioned look in the daylight scenes, and the woods are thick and real. On the other, the fairies are shot with weird god-help-us craziness in color and angle, ugly makeup, and with irritating spotlights in the background. Other signs of late 60s grooviness include too-fashionable hairstyles and hemlines, and brief nudity. I feel particularly sorry for Judi Dench who is naked in scenes where her breath is showing from the cold; that must have been a miserable experience.

Much of the comedy is unaccountably drained from the lovers in the woods. Still: there is no denying that, as always, the viewer is seduced into a little Shakespearean sub-creation, always a little different from every other production.

1981-BBC Television Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1981. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Jonathan Miller. Directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Good production, strong cast (except Puck, who is played as a bit part), effective staging and music. We get most the great passages that are usually cut from film versions; you could make a whole play with what is often left out. There are notable cuts, such as most of Theseus' lines in the morning hunt, including his sardonic comment on finding the lovers who have been out all night:

No doubt they rose up early to observe
The rite of May; and, hearing our intent,
Came here in grace of our solemnity.

The edits are crude in spots. I sometimes had trouble hearing the fairy dialogue, especially with Puck, whose accent is a bit thick for me. When did it become customary to show the male fairies as ragged "wild men" of the woods?

Helen Mirren is alluring as Titania. Brian Glover is a good, earthy Bottom. His ass's head makes him look more like a rabbit. The comedy bits of the the four young lovers are well done.

The opening scenes with Theseus and company are (intentionally?) static and airless, but the play soon opens up. Lots of water in the woods. The audience does not seem much moved by "Pyramus and Thisby".

In this case I agree with Harold Bloom that it is a mistake to make too much of a possible sexual liaison between Bottom and Titania. Bottom is an innocent and is much more interested in chatting with Cobweb and company than in cavorting with the fairy queen. This production supports that approach, giving just a hint of the erotic. Bottom is not harmed by his night in the woods because he brought no harm with him. His reflections on his "dream" are a fond idyll, unlike the more usual shocked confusion.

There are depths of weirdness in the play that I have never seen exploited. Shakespeare sometimes shows a talent for gentle lampooning, as of the pastoral ideal in As You Like It. Here he does the same with the yearning for magic and immortality and the erotic apotheosis. We recognize ourselves as asses for wanting such things.

1996-Adrian Noble, Royal Shakespeare Company

A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1996. Directed by Adrian Noble. Featuring the Royal Shakespeare Company. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Ingenious in many respects, but for some reason this version doesn't move me. The actors double as both the court and the fairies, which does allow Hippolyta/Titania to exchange a long glance with Bottom toward the end; a nice touch. Their humping scene in the boat is meant to be ludicrously funny, but is just vulgar.

My video rental tape was one of the worst I have seen; it looked like a multi-generation copy.

1999-Kevin Kline

A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1999. Directed by Michael Hoffman. Starring Kevin Kline. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Pretty Italian country settings, nice costumes and sets. In the end, setting just doesn't matter. The play, as is often the case with Shakespeare, is set in its own world. The brief Mendelssohn music harks back to the 1935 Reinhardt version.

Well-intentioned, but sometimes clumsy. I liked it better after a second viewing. The young lovers aren't bad, although Christian Bale is a bit wooden. There is something spitefully funny about dunking beautiful young people in a mud puddle.

Bottom's character and story are elaborated in a non-traditional way; he is not a "hard-handed" man. That his friends are concerned for his sanity even before the adventure in the woods is an interesting approach. Kevin Kline is not very exciting in the role.

The fairies are a disaster. The attempted combination of magic with TV-style low comedy doesn't work. Stanley Tucci (Puck) has comic talent, but is not of much use here.

Quite properly, the audience of "Pyramus and Thisby" become unintentionally engrossed in the story, but their transition from mockery is too obvious.

I like Sophie Marceau (Hippolyta) but she is barely in it. I recall her English being stronger in other films.

Much Ado About Nothing

1973-Joseph Papp

Much Ado About Nothing. 1973. Directed by A.J. Antoon and Nick Havinga. Starring Sam Waterston. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Set in America around 1900. Well staged and costumed. The "keystone cops" humor doesn't add much; maybe it was funny at one time and will be again someday. The production could have been sped up without harm.

Don Pedro and Beatrice are well done. Don Juan is comically villainous. Sam Waterston is too low-key for Benedick; his dry humour is better suited for Abe Lincoln. My only advice for dealing with Dogberry is to get through his bits quickly.

I'm always amazed how finely written are the Beatrice-Benedick interchanges, particularly the scene after the interrupted wedding.

1984-BBC Television Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing. 1984. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Directed by Stuart Burge. Starring Robert Lindsay, Cherie Lunghi, and Jon Finch. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Well performed, but rather static version, with the exception of a comic bit when old Antonio chases Claudio around a fountain, poking him with a sword. Lush costuming, very odd background painting of the hills.

I always enjoy seeing Robert Lindsay (Benedick); his quips are wry and understated. Jon Finch (Don Pedro) is a fine actor in these productions, but comedy is not his strongest vehicle.

As always, the Beatrice/Benedick interchanges are the best part of the play.

Dogberry and company are played simply and quickly, a good thing.

DVD: single layer, meaning too much compression. No subtitles.


Much Ado About Nothing. 1993. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Kate Beckensale. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Exuberant, very pleasant production, great Tuscan setting, fine score by Patrick Doyle (who also plays Balthasar, the singer). The text is much abbreviated.

The cast leads are all pretty good. I feel sorry for Brian Blessed, having to guffaw so much he looks as if he might hurt himself. Keanu Reeves is suitably sinister but seems to have no control over his voice. Michael Keaton is a remarkably bizarre Dogberry. Denzel Washington is a worthy prince.

The show belongs to Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick. After the wedding fiasco, the chapel scene is quite moving:

Bene. Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?

Beat. Yea, and I will weep a while longer.

Bene. I will not desire that.

Beat. You have no reason. I do it freely.

Bene. Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wronged.

Beat. Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her!

Bene. Is there any way to show such friendship?

Beat. A very even way, but no such friend.

Bene. May a man do it?

Beat. It is a man's office, but not yours.

Bene. I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?

Beat. As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you. But believe me not; and yet I lie. I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my cousin.

Bene. By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me.

Beat. Do not swear, and eat it.

Bene. I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you.


Beat. Why then, God forgive me!

Bene. What offence, sweet Beatrice?

Beat. You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I loved you.

Bene. And do it with all thy heart.

Beat. I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.

Although the wedding itself could be played as farce (Benedick: "This looks not like a nuptial"), it seems more natural these days to play up the violent jealously of the groom's side and their cruelty to the innocent Hero. As such the scene has remarkable intensity and draws us into a sort of sadism-by-proxy: we can enjoy Hero's humiliation because we know she will be vindicated.


1922-Emil Jannings

Othello. 1922. Directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki. Starring Emil Jannings. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A feature length silent film adaptation made in Germany. There are many plot departures: Othello kills Iago, for example. For some reason another Turkish invasion is invented which never materializes.

Well-costumed and seriously done, but not very captivating. The DVD version is available separately and is also found on the companion disk to O, the 2001 high school adaptation. The background music to that version is distracting.

1952-Orson Welles

Othello. 1952. Directed by and starring Orson Welles. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Striking imagery, stunning locales. I saw the restored version and the new music track was very strong. This is one of those films where the camera seems to "love" the actors and the sets.

The dialog is more troublesome; often background effects, especially the sound of the surf, obscure the foreground. According to a documentary on the DVD, the syllables of the spoken words had to be broken up and respaced to fix lip-sync problems in the original.

I'm not sure a viewer unfamiliar with the story would be able to follow the first half. Welles had a very dramatic, choppy editing style.

I don't know what makes a good Othello. The problem: how can the general be both so noble and so easily duped? Iago's manipulation makes Othello seem less like a tragic figure and more like a fool. Balancing the needs of the role is a pretty problem.

In the text, Iago has some small excuses for what he does, but there is really no answer to the "why?" It is the problem of Evil.

The opening scenes show the aftermath: bodies carried away on biers and Iago hoisted into the air in an iron cage. During Iago's scenes later in the film, that iron cage is often in the background.


Othello. 1965. Directed by Stuart Burge and John Dexter. Starring Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Frank Findlay, Derek Jacobi. IMDB details.

Strong, if stagy and deliberately paced, but a rather complete text and a decent production. I found myself scrutinizing Olivier's makeup and wondering at that basso voice and accent. His intermittent ham acting is a bit hard to take. I've never seen him display, in filmed Shakespeare, the sort of reptilian intensity he had in Spartacus (not a very good film) and Marathon Man, or the wit he showed in Sleuth.

Jacobi's voice tends to dominate the scene whenever he's on. They did something interesting with Othello's religion: apparently he is a Christian convert but reverts to Islam when his jealousy takes hold.

Omitted lines:

'Tis not a year or two shows us a man.
They are all but stomachs and we all but food;
They eat us hungerly, and when they are full
They belch us.

As well as the long interchange between Desdemona and Emilia which begins:

Dost thou in conscience think--tell me, Emilia--
That there be women do abuse their husbands
In such gross kind?

1981-BBC Television Shakespeare

Othello. 1981. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced and directed by Jonathan Miller. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Strong, meticulous production. Excellent lighting and camera work. The final scene is awfully histrionic; perhaps that is inevitable.

Anthony Hopkins is very good at the the noble, majestic side of Othello. As he is deceived he becomes weepy. His rages are less satisfying; he tends to screech and sticks out his tongue and hisses in an odd manner.

Bob Hoskins is an amazing Iago, a bitter joy to watch. He is simultaneously common and clever, a load of demonic mendacity in a small package. Isn't it odd that no one suspects him of his villainy? He giggles in the dark as Cassio and Roderigo fight; an eerie scene. The last sound in the movie is his laughter as he is led away to torture and death.

Penelope Wilton is an intelligent, mature Desdemona.

I recall in The Virginian, Owen Wister's cowboy hero reads all of Shakespeare and disapproves of Othello for its dreadful content, saying "Such things should never have been written down." I feel something of the same horror. Watching Othello confide in Iago and abuse Desdemona so cruelly: it is almost too much.

1995-Parker, Fishburne

Othello. 1995. Directed by Oliver Parker. Starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

I liked this much better after a second viewing. The colorful, lusty treatment provokes thoughts of the simultaneous attraction and repulsion between the races and sexes, between civilians and soldiers, superiors and followers.

Fishburne is powerfully moody; his reading fair. Branagh gives an undertone of sadness to Iago that I hadn't seen before; it makes his villainy more comprehensible. But his ordinary lines seem like ordinary Branagh. Anna Patrick gives a fine interpretation of Emilia. Irene Jacob is quite appealing as Desdemona, but her accent is a bit thick, as is the case with some of the other Italian cast members. Michael Maloney, one of Branagh's "crew", is good as the alternatively foolish and pathethic Roderigo.

Othello calms down after the murder and stays sane; this happily reduces the amount of shrieking usual in the final scene.

Richard II

1978-BBC Television Shakespeare

Richard II. 1978. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by David Giles. Starring Derek Jacobi, John Gielgud, Jon Finch and Charles Gray. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Strong production with rich costumes and dark lighting which helps the video image. Good, distinguished cast. Jon Finch is particularly notable.

The faithlessness of princes is a strong theme; the falling away of the later generation from their noble forebears. I wonder if Bolingbroke first considers being king himself in the first act:

How long a time lies in one little word!
Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
End in a word: such is the breath of kings.

Gielgud's "sceptered isle" speech is delivered in the wry desperation of a dying man. His blustering at Richard which follows is a good scene.

Richard is an amazing creation: unlikeable, undeserving and yet so sympathetic. Jacobi is very good in the role, playing the king as both distinguished and weak, cruel and pathetic.

Charles Gray is consistently fine as the vacillating York, the hapless remnant of the earlier generation of Edward III and John of Gaunt. He seems to have forebodings of the multi-generational disaster which will be caused by the usurpation even before Richard himself begins to prophesy the same. When Bolingbroke appears before Flint Castle and says:

See, see, King Richard doth himself appear,
As doth the blushing discontented sun
From out the fiery portal of the east,
When he perceives the envious clouds are bent
To dim his glory and to stain the track
Of his bright passage to the occident.

York touchingly replies:

Yet looks he like a king: behold, his eye,
As bright as is the eagle's, lightens forth
Controlling majesty: alack, alack, for woe,
That any harm should stain so fair a show!

York and his duchess (Wendy Hiller) pleading for their son before the King is a great comic scene. Henry: "Our scene is alter'd from a serious thing / And now changed to 'The Beggar and the King.'" It is pretty clear in this performance that son Aumerle wanted to be discovered and saved from his conspiracy.

Surprisingly, the passage before this when we first hear about Hal is dropped: "Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?" etc.

1982-Bard Productions

Richard II. 1982. Produced by Jack Manning and Jack Nakano. Directed by William Woodman. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A made-for-video American stage production from "Bard Productions". This was better than I expected: although lacking the subtlety of the BBC television performances, all the words are there and the reading is adequate, if done in a declamatory, sometimes blustering style. I rather like Paul Shenar as Bolingbroke; I had seen him in many small parts previously. David Birney is a young and vigorous Richard, projecting the monarch's flamboyance and fragility rather well. His prison fight is a big swashbuckling scene.

The comic bits with York and his wife arguing and pleading before Bolingbroke could have been played up a bit more.

Jay Robinson appears as the Gardener. I'll always remember him as the insane Caligula in The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators, "shrieking and mincing" up a storm.

The video quality is poor but watchable, and the sound particularly bad in the musical bits.

Richard III


Richard III. 1911. From the Silent Shakespeare compilation. Directed by and starring Frank R. Benson. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

From Britain, 24 minutes long, shot with a large cast entirely on a stage, with a horse! Stagy but quite elaborate production by people who have obviously done it in the theater.


Richard III. 1912. Directed by James Keane. Starring Frederick Warde. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A 55 minute version restored by the American Film Institute and said to be the oldest surviving American feature film. As with earlier silent Shakespeare, a fixed camera with a single lens is used for all of the shots, but, compared with others I have the seen, the production is lavish, with large crowds, good costumes and backgrounds (although some are obviously drawings) and fine composition and dimensionality to the shots. Year by year, one can see the advance of film technique.

Frederick Warde is a vivid Richard, making all the right gargoyle faces, and projecting the story with many both obvious and subtle gestures.

The story is covered pretty well, though briefly of course, and with minor adjustments.

Ennio Morricone provides a new soundtrack.


Richard III. 1955. Directed by Laurence Olivier. Starring Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

"With interpolations by David Garrick, etc". Final moments from Henry VI Part 3 are inserted at the beginning. The Criterion DVD restores a half-hour missing from the previous video version I had seen.

A bit stagy in costume and sets; only the Field of Bosworth is outdoors. The camera work there show an odd and strking geometrical quality. Shadows and crowns are themes throughout.

Olivier is such a dapper Richard that it is hard to see him as being worse than naughty rather than truly evil. As A.L. Rowse says:

...there is something heroic in Richard's ambition and scheming against such odds, and his eventual arriving where he intended to be...

He is rather comic until he attains the throne, then is simply insane, finally becoming just a king in trouble. The death scene is bizarre, with stirring music and bloody pageantry.

Olivier wears a long false nose; is that traditional? He's marvelously crafty and wicked. Young Claire Bloom is a histrionic Anne, better after a second viewing.

Buckingham is an interesting character, the master propagandist who skirts the abyss and pulls away too late. Ralph Richardson's mild appearance is quite sinister in effect. He steals the show, in a quiet way.

The colors on the DVD are much more vivid than I remember seeing before, which improves the costumes and sets. It also has a good commentary track, with useful details on history, Shakespeare and film-making.

I've enjoyed this and the preceeding Henry VI plays more since reading other novels and histories of the period.

1983-BBC Television Shakespeare

Richard III. 1983. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Directed by Jane Howell. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

The four-part series comes to its bitter and triumphant end in this three and three-quarters hour program. The alarms and excursions are mostly gone and little comedy remains, apart from Richard's nasty quips, although Clarence's murderers deliver some unexpected laughs. It's just an irresistible story, better each time I see it, of a nation worn down by war and murder, finally achieving the apotheosis of darkness in Crookback and salvation in Richmond. (Lots of Tudor propaganda operating here, as Josephine Tey pointed out in Daughter of Time. But she also said: "You can't fight Shakespeare").

Ron Cook plays Richard as un-Satanic, that is, as capable but not superhuman; his villainy is not at all attractive. It's not clear whether he has a better nature or not; facing his mother we sometimes suspect he may break, but it never happens.

The story gives many example of practical politics.

All the cast seem to have grown old and sober in the course of the cycle. Michael Byrne's Buckingham seems like a decent fellow until it is time to fetch the princes and he is revealed as a conspirator. Still, he has his limits. It is startling to see Peter Benson, previously Henry VI, in his brief appearances.

What a cursing demon Margaret has become! Her spooky maledictions hang over the story and most victims realize her curse has caught them just before their ends.

The lamentations of the women give the story the tone of Greek tragedy. The final scene shows a pile of corpses surmounted by cackling Margaret holding dead Richard in a ghastly pieta. An eerie graphic commentary on the whole epic cycle, but not really appropriate for the end of this play.

1995-Loncraine, McKellen

Richard III. 1995. Directed by Richard Loncraine. Starring Ian McKellen, Annette Benning, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

I found this to be a very powerful and effective version. Dressing the story in fascist machinations of the 1930s gives it a fresh look, a new immediacy. Gorgeous period settings and atmosphere.

Outstanding cast. This is the first time I remember liking Annette Benning in anything; making the queen and her brother Rivers American is a nice touch.

The film could easily have been quite a bit longer without wearing out the production.

The political side of the story is almost hypnotic. I found myself saying "Yes, this is just how it happens."

Romeo and Juliet

1936-Leslie Howard

Romeo and Juliet. 1936. Directed by George Cukor. Starring Leslie Howard, Norma Shearer, John Barrymore. IMDB details.

A good production, with that lavish 1930s MGM fantasy look. As is often the case, those in uniform tend to look like chessmen or playing cards. Capulet's dance is a big ballroom event.

Leslie Howard is a very natural, good-humored Romeo. A fine actor; his early death was a great loss. Norma Shearer does not have a very expressive face, and her Juliet suffers as a result. She does well in prolonging the scene where she must drink the potion -- a nice horror movie scenario. John Barrymore is a silly Mercutio; this is the first time I've heard a "Queen Mab" that doesn't turn dark and demented. He dies with flippant remarks. As Tybalt, Basil Rathbone has just a hint of his later villainies.

An inserted scene shows Friar John being locked up in the plague house. Often his role is cut entirely. Juliet says she'll follow Romeo "throughout the world", but of course she doesn't.

Benvolio wears a fringed doily in front of his crotch which is more distracting than whatever they were trying to conceal. Andy Devine in tights is a startling sight.

I always enjoy seeing massively-featured C. Aubrey Smith (Capulet) in films of this period. Born in 1863, his last film was in 1948, the year he died. Edna May Oliver (Nurse) is another familiar face.

One of the joys of old films is the occasional stunning scene, such as Romeo's nighttime bedroom in Mantua, with the moonlit clouds. Current filmmakers don't seem to like such static shots, or perhaps the "poster art" look is an embarrassment. I like it.

Lastly, I wonder at Romeo's thought: "But he that hath the steerage of my course / Direct my sail!" How was that prayer answered?


Romeo and Juliet. 1954. Directed by Renato Castellani. Starring Laurence Harvey. IMDB details.

Pretty, naturalistic settings and Rank Films color. But the leads are bland. The secondary characters get almost no time at all. No Queen Mab (although: it's an expendable speech, not really fitting into any performance I've seen). Many other large cuts and odd rewrites.


Romeo and Juliet. 1968. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Starring Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A sumptuous presentation with fine performances all around, including the young leads. Particularly notable is Olivia Hussey who brings an unexpected comic touch to Juliet in the first half of the film.

Mercutio is suitably vulgar, although he refrains from his jibes about "medlars" and "pop'rin pears". The same passage was cut from the play when I read it in school, just about the time the film was being made.

The text is much abridged, as is warranted for a popular film, but the director makes curious choices as to the lines he cuts. Romeo says "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" but we miss:

It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious.
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off.
It is my lady; O, it is my love!
O that she knew she were!

He also skips Juliet's anticipation of her wedding night:

Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway eyes may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms untalk'd of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties; or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night.

And although we see Juliet thinking the lines, she does not speak the ominous:

O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee, now thou art below,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.
Either my eyesight fails, or thou look'st pale.

Oddly, Mercutio's fight with Tybalt is shown as play-fighting and it is Romeo's interference that causes Mercutio's death. Romeo does not kill Paris in this version, nor does he buy the poison he drinks.

Juliet's dubbed-in sobs and moans are poorly done and become quite irritating after a while.

The music became a famous theme of the 1960s which was played so much that everyone grew heartily sick of it. With the passage of time it becomes pleasant again.

1976-Christopher Neame

Romeo and Juliet. 1976. Directed by Joan Kemp-Welch. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Not a very exciting production, but rather complete text. Made for TV, shot on video but with nice costumes and stage sets. The sound is sometimes off, coming and going a bit. Clive Swift (Friar Lawrence) and Patsy Byrne (Nurse) are the only really familar faces. I don't know how old Ann Hasson was, but she sometimes looks like Juliet's thirteen years.

I think this is actually a hard play to perform: the cumbersome language gets in the way of any honest passion. Everyone is juvenile. I'd rate it higher if the word "banishment" were struck; the "banishment" wailing is ridiculous. Once they are married, why can't Juliet run off with Romeo to Mantua?

One is tempted to try an alternative comedy version where no one has died. Romeo and Juliet's homelife is constant tears and bluster, fights and love-making. Endless in-law problems. Friar Lawrence is sick of them both. Juliet can't stand Mercutio hanging around, Romeo feels the same about Tybalt. She suspect him of seeing Rosaline on the side...

I'll note another eerie passage which gives that floating, dreamlike quality you find in many of the plays:

What said my man when my betossed soul
Did not attend him as we rode? I think
He told me Paris should have married Juliet.
Said he not so? or did I dream it so?
Or am I mad, hearing him talk of Juliet
To think it was so?

1978-BBC Television Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet. 1978. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by Alvin Rakoff. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A competent production. Juliet is properly virginal but seems a bit bloodless. Anthony Andrews' Mercutio is madcap and somewhat cowardly. The Nurse is a crone without any depth. The young Alan Rickman is a very nasty Tybalt and has the skinniest legs and biggest nose in the cast.

1993-Stratford Festival

Romeo and Juliet. 1993. Produced and directed by Norman Campbell. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A Stratford Festival production set in fascist Italy. The setting is important only as it affects the costumes. Fairly businesslike production with not a great deal of passion. Colm Feore pulls out the stops for lewd, funny Mercutio. The final third seems rushed, preventing the tragedy from building. As usual, the bit with Peter and the players after Juliet's "death" is skipped.

While watching this I was struck with how oddly structured the play is; how long we wait for Juliet to first appear, and how long it goes on after Mercutio is dead. And how strange it is to hear Friar Lawrence recapitulate the plot at the end.

The play contains many strange correspondences which I don't recall seeing used in performance. Romeo's apprehension of "Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars" always gives me a shiver, and I would find some way to couple this with his later "Then I defy you, stars!"

Similarly, how weird it is that Mercutio's drunken conjuration over the orchard wall to "Cry but 'Ah me!'" is realized just a few lines later by Juliet on the balcony.

And Lady Capulet, in a scene omitted from this version, proposes procuring poison for Romeo:

I'll send to one in Mantua,
Where that same banish'd runagate doth live,
Shall give him such an unaccustom'd dram
That he shall soon keep Tybalt company

Later, of course, he buys his own poison in Mantua.

I've noticed that Lady Capulet seems to be a "type," consistent across several productions I have seen.

I wonder if Friar Laurence could be made less certain about the effect of Juliet's drug. That would add tension to his entrance at her "death": what has he done?

Finally, watching this production, it struck me what a fine "horror" scene is Juliet's meditation on taking the drug. It could be slowed down and exploited to good effect. She is willing to actually go into the undiscovered country that Hamlet only contemplates.

1996-DiCaprio, Danes

Romeo + Juliet. 1996. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Hyperkinetic modern setting for the video generation. Quite (excessively?) clever in bringing many Shakespearean details into contemporary Los Angeles. Image and attitude are the most important components, text coming a distant third.

Nonetheless the meaning of the text is mostly preserved and the film is fun to watch, although I think the "violence as ballet" motif in recent film has gone on about thirty years too long. Fine cinematography in spots. Surprisingly restrained erotic content. Romeo does not kill Paris (although the Prince later says he has lost "a brace of kinsmen"). The lovers are briefly awake together in the tomb. Since Juliet dies by gunshot rather than stabbing, her last lines are dropped. No reconciliation of the parents. Pete Postlethwaite gives a memorably bizarre interpretation of Friar Laurence, the druggie priest.

Although it is not DiCaprio's fault that he has become a teen idol, it is still hard for me to take him seriously. Danes did better work in Polish Wedding.

I object to religious imagery in films where it is cheap, easy and meaningless.

The Taming of the Shrew

1929-Pickford, Fairbanks

The Taming of the Shrew. 1929. Directed by Sam Taylor. Starring Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. IMDB details.

An abbreviated early "talkie" with remarkably elaborate sets and costumes. Kate and Petruchio are pretty much the whole show; they carry matching whips!

Fairbanks is suitably hearty and purposefully deranged; Pickford's comic mugging is better than her spoken lines. Sometimes lumbering pseudo-Shakepearean dialogue is substituted for the real thing.

It made me laugh: Petruchio enters the bedchamber on his wedding night, and, to Kate's consternation, sits up playing solitaire -- which has lewd implications, if you think about it.

In a nice twist, Kate catches on to his method early and turns it back on him.


The Taming of the Shrew. 1950. Directed by Paul Nickell. Starring Charlton Heston. IMDB details.

A one hour "Westinghouse Studio One" television program, complete with advertisements for portable (but not transistorized) radios, electric fans, and baseball stadium lights.

Brief text, just so-so modern dress production, entertaining for its nostalgia value. Kate initially appears in riding breeches with a crop and is certainly intimidating. Young Charlton Heston roughs her up a bit but they cut the racier lines. They might reverse the taboos if doing it today.

I was particularly sorry there was no time for the subplot involving Lucentio and his father.


The Taming of the Shrew. 1967. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Lavish, boisterous production, very rich in costumes and sets. Great score. Brief text.

Burton plays Petruchio with gusto and, where appropriate, sensitivity. Not to judge Taylor too harshly, but her best acting is when she is not speaking. At times she has an amazing presence.

Young Michael York is quite good as Lucentio. Particularly funny is Bianca's suspense before her sister's wedding. Michael Hordern is hilarious as the harried and distracted Baptista.

The refrain from one of the songs, "tis gone, tis gone, tis gone", is from Romeo and Juliet. Another song ("For the rain it raineth every day") is from Twelfth Night. (Or King Lear?)

I have no idea what the mob scene in the street near the beginning is about. No sign of Christopher Sly.

I wonder about Harold Bloom's contention that Petruchio wants to be dominated by his wife and she has to learn how to do it. Not in this version. Kate's final lecture is delivered seriously, without irony.


The Taming of the Shrew. 1976. Directed by Kirk Browning. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Terrifically athletic, fast-paced stage production by the American Conservatory Theater of San Francisco. I don't know how they rehearsed it without injury; there are some astonishing stunts. Said to be a "comedia dell'arte" staging; to me this looks like clown outfits which don't add much. But it is a funny show, although the standard bits of comic "business" and repeated motifs are actually a substitute for real comedy. Still, the audience laughed, and cheap laughs are better than none.

Fredi Olster is an outstanding Kate: pretty, fierce, intelligent, with great comic responses and absurdly dramatic diction. Marc Singer, impressive with waxed chest and shocking tights, plays Petruchio as a curious combination of cunning and boneheadedness. Not a trace of Richard Burton.

Kate's final lecture is delivered seriously and with great melodrama: she actually puts her hand under her husband's shoe! It might be better to stage this scene as Kate's rather pointed criticism of the other two brides, who are too foolish to manage their husbands properly.

The video quality is not very good, but the sound is acceptable.

As usual, Christopher Sly and the others from the Induction do not appear. I think that is a mistake. Presenting the performance as a practical joke on a drunkard allows another dimension of inventiveness and further justifications for the plot absurdities. The confusion of levels caused when Sly seemingly vanishes in the middle of the story makes the play even more dizzying, and a bit suggestive. Harold C. Goddard puts it nicely: both Sly and Petruchio are dreaming that they are lords. If Sly awakens he will be disabused. What of Petruchio? Will Kate let him go on dreaming?

1980-BBC Television Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew. 1980. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Directed by Jonathan Miller. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Fairly sedate version, apart from Kate's bellowing. I note again that the play is so wordy for a comedy that much visual comic business is inserted to keep it moving.

As Petruchio, John Cleese is intelligent, quiet and sane, if a touch melancholy. He seems a bit dangerous. He and Kate obviously like each other from the outset and relish their initial repartee. Her closing speech is serious and unironic.

No Christopher Sly.

This is the first BBC Series title I've seen on DVD. I particularly enjoyed the subtitling feature, as some of the lines fly by pretty quickly.

1982-Stratford Festival

The Taming of the Shrew. 1982. Directed by Norman Campbell. Stage direction by Peter Dews. This title does not appear in the IMDB database.

Part of the "Shakespeare Collection" from the Stratford Festival in Ontario, a live production shot on video. Very broadly played, obviously a crowd-pleaser, with plenty of inserted comic "business".

Sharry Flett is pleasant as Kate, much challenged and befuddled by an eccentric husband, both mad and loveable. It's a difficult part; we want Kate to be both funny and respectable. Her final speech is a tour-de-force.

Colm Feore (Tranio) is the only actor I recognize from other films.

Contrary to the text, Christopher Sly has lines throughout the play and is given a final scene.

The videos are produced by Madacy, well-known for their bottom-of-the-barrel quality.

1983-Shakespeare Video Society

The Taming of the Shrew. 1983. Directed by John Allison. Produced by Jack Nakano. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

A made-for-video stage production. Fairly exuberant, but the comedy is strained. The men wear lurid cod-pieces. Franklyn Seales (Petruchio) strives; the wardrobe people should have given him a shirt to go with his costumes. Karen Austin handles Katherina pretty well and looks good in the role, with saucy looks and firey eyes.

No Christopher Sly. Jay Robinson (the imposter Vincentio) appears in yet another video Shakespeare.

The Tempest


The Tempest. 1908. From the Silent Shakespeare compilation. Directed by Percy Stow. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

From Britain, 12 minutes long, unknown cast, filmed both on stage and outdoors. Caliban looks like a lunatic wild man. Ariel is a delightful dancing girl. We see Prospero (with one large book) and the infant Miranda placed in their boat, their arrival on the island, the discovery of Caliban (an adult), and the freeing of Ariel from a tree (definitely not a pine). An inserted scene shows Ariel rescuing the older Miranda from the attentions of Caliban. Ariel changes into a monkey; obviously the monkey doesn't know what to make of Caliban.

Invocation of the storm is done as a bit of stage magic, complete with white doves released from a puff of smoke. The shipwreck is an eerie effect: a stage with a view cut out of the paper "rock" wall, a projection of real ocean, and a model ship breaking up. Ferdinand emerges from the sea completely clothed, including hat with feather. He and Miranda fall in love in a fraction of a second.

Caliban wants to leave with the others at the end, but they all spurn him when boarding the ship. Miranda gives him a doubtful glance and speaks a word to Ferdinand, but they pass him by. I've always wondered: what does happen to Caliban?

I can't explain why, but this is my favorite film in the silent collection.


The Tempest. 1979. Directed by Derek Jarman. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Eccentric version, very low-budget "arty" with limited text. Prospero and Miranda live in a mansion. Lots of unappealing nudity.

I don't mind experimental efforts in theory, but I find them hard to sit through.

1980-BBC Television Shakespeare

The Tempest. 1980. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina. Directed by John Gorrie. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Elaborate storm, forest and seacoast sets. More special effects than are normal for the series.

I have always liked Michael Hordern; his voice, face and manner are very intriguing. It is difficult to say whether he is a good Prospero. He is a sad magician, a warm but stern father.

Pippa Guard is appealing as Miranda. Caliban is pathetic but unsympathetic. The Spirit songs and dances are hard to sit through. Gold-painted fairies in jockstraps. The dialogue on the ship in the storm is hard to make out. Nigel Hawthorne is rather good as Stephano.

I object to presenting spirits such as Ariel as non-human alien entities with bizarre speech patterns and habits. Shakespearean fairies and sprites should be "people".

Perhaps it is the play itself I find irritating. Weak plot, cruel comedy.

Timon of Athens

1981-BBC Television Shakespeare

Timon of Athens. 1981. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Titus Andronicus

1985-BBC Television Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus. 1985. Directed by Jane Howell. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Fairly formal version, which is natural given the stiffness of the text. Trevor Peacock, always fine, is a solidierly, innocent Titus until his world crumbles. Aaron (Hugh Quarshie) is the only lively character in the play. You need a manly Moor to contrast against the weakling Goth boys and emperor.

Anna Calder-Marshall's Lavinia seems to be in shock from first to last.

They show Aaron's baby in it's coffin; so much for Lucius's oath.

There is a chapter on the difficult week-long production of this play in The BBC Shakespeare Plays: Making the Televised Canon by Susan Willis.

This is the last play produced for the series, and one of the eeriest scenes in the series occurs on the last day of shooting. It's when Tamora is eating the meat pie at the banquet while Titus, Lavinia and young Lucius sit on a bench watching. During the long cut they are attentive but silent, patient, strangely passive, probably exhausted. But this is revenge.


Titus Andronicus. 1999. Directed by Julie Taymor. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

An ambitious effort at one of Shakespeare's least-loved plays, bringing a remarkable amount of life and clarity to a text which seems rather dull on the page. Quite imaginative in many respects, mixing modern and ancient fantasy sets and costumes. Some of the more gruesome events, such as the sacrifice of Alarbus and the rape of and mayhem on Lavinia, take place off stage, just as they do in the original. Some scenes are slightly reordered.

Very strong cast. Aaron was calmer and more reserved than I imagined him, Saturninus more decadent. Jessica Lange is a perfect Tamora: a mother-figure who draws the sadistic "momma's boys".

I think it is inevitable that the heaping up of horrors turns to comedy after a time. Try reading all of Euripides straight through; eventually one can only laugh at incidents which would be tragic when taken singly, but when taken together:

Marcus: Why does thou laugh? it fits not with this hour.

Titus: Why, I have not another tear to shed...

I will need to wait a while and see it again before judging whether Taymor has effectively used the comic touches. As it is, I became detached when the clowns returned the severed heads to Titus, and was no longer much involved when he appeared in a chef's costume at the final banquet. I'm not able to say whether Tamora and sons costumed as Revenge, etc, "worked" or not. Good try, certainly.

* * *

Upon second viewing: the widescreen DVD format improves an already impressive film. Julie Taymor provides a detailed and very interesting commentary track. I also gave more attention to the helpful musical score this time.

Some of the stiffer lines are recited as rituals, giving them a more excusable context. For example: "Away with him, and make a fire straight; / And with our swords, upon a pile of wood, / Let's hew his limbs till they be clean consum'd." etc.

I wrote previously that the text seems lifeless on the page, but this time I began to hear echoes of later works. Here Tamora sounds much like Isabella in Measure for Measure:

Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods?
Draw near them then in being merciful.
Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge.

Troilus and Cressida

1981-BBC Television Shakespeare

Troilus and Cressida. 1981. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced and directed by Jonathan Miller. IMDB details.

As of this writing this is the only production of the play I have seen. John Shrapnel (Hector) and Benjamin Whitrow (a mild, diffident Ulysses) seem to me to be strong performances, and Troilus a weak one. Pandarus and Thersites (Charles Gray and "The Incredible Orlando", who is credited in other films as Jack Birkett, a blind actor) have contemporary "gay" mannerisms, which are a bit funny and perhaps useful, but ultimately just irritating.

Hector's death is unexpectedly gruesome.

Twelfth Night


Twelfth Night. 1910. From the Silent Shakespeare compilation. Directed by Charles Kent. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

From the US, 12 minutes long, filmed on stage and outdoors. Pleasant, if played very broadly. Olivia looks like she is suffering gastric distress rather than grief. Sir Toby splashes Malvolio (played by the director) with water when he reads the letter; a stunt I've seen many times since. The duel between Viola and Sir Andrew is set up but they don't actually fight.

1980-BBC Television Shakespeare

Twelfth Night. 1980. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Cedric Messina and Alan Shallcross. Directed by John Gorrie. IMDB details.

One of the most pleasant entries in the series. The entire cast is wonderful. It is always a pleasure to see Robert Hardy (Sir Toby Belch). I don't recall Ronnie Stevens in any other role, but as Sir Andrew Aguecheek he is a fool's fool. Trevor Peacock is a soulful Feste. Sinead Cusack is appealing as Olivia, and Clive Arrindell is an ominous Orsino. Alec McCowen plays Malvolio so well it is painful to watch what happens to him. I know Felicity Kendall only from television comedy, but she is fine as Viola.

Olivia's house is very nicely done for a stage construction. The whole set shows nice greenery, architecture and lighting.

My favorite lines:

Sir Toby: Does not our life consist of the four elements?

Sir Andrew: Faith, so they say; but I think it rather consists of eating and drinking.

Sir Toby: Thou'rt a scholar...

Feste sings the unloved Antonio off at the end; always a poignant scene.

DVD: single layer, meaning too much compression. No subtitles.


Twelfth Night. 1988. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and Paul Kafno. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Pleasant TV-production, leisurely paced. Wintry set with a rather complete text and some extra songs. Many scenes have a strong monochromatic tinting. The sound level goes up and down a bit.

Neither so hilarious nor so dark as other productions. Sir Andrew is more sober than usual and pathetic rather than comic. Olivia's mourning is pretty superficial. Malvolio (Richard Briers; has he been in every Branagh Shakespeare film?) seems broken and deranged by his dreadful experience.

Feste is always an interesting character: the most melancholy of the clowns. Here he resents having to play Sir Topas and abuse Malvolio to the point of cruelty.

1996-Trevor Nunn

Twelfth Night. 1996. Directed by Trevor Nunn. Starring Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham Carter, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Kingsley, Imelda Staunton. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Lush Victorian setting. Good cast and presentation, but a bit too slow. Comedy requires a speedier pace. Ben Kingsley is a dark and melancholy Feste. It is implied that he sees through Viola's disguise; a nice touch.

The sexual themes are handled delicately: Viola modestly attends Orsino in his bath; Toby and Maria have an understanding communicated through glances.

2003-Tim Supple

Twelfth Night. 2003. Directed by Tim Supple. Available on DVD. IMDB details.

Fairly lush modern-dress version, finely photographed with an Anglo-Indian cast. Interesting combination of music (Feste sounds like Sting). Very serious and somber, without much comedy except for Uncle Toby and his friends. A fine example of how Shakespeare's language is not an obstacle in a good production.

More erotic imagery than is usual, with a rare bit of female voyeurism in the Duke's bath. Olivia has a marriage bed!

Toby and his cronies are presented as burned-out rockers; David Troughton is very good as their leader. They do something here which I've never seen but which makes perfect sense: Olivia's entire household is still haunted by the deaths of her father and particularly her brother. This adds emotional depth.

Aguecheek's claim "I was adored once" is so outlandish that it must be true. Michael Maloney is a great Malvolio, the jumped-up servant we love to see crushed and who we pity afterwards. Even his persecutors know they have gone too far.

The Winter's Tale

1981-BBC Television Shakespeare

The Winter's Tale. 1981. From the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Produced by Jonathan Miller. Directed by Jane Howell. IMDB details.

I have often seen Jeremy Kemp (Leontes) and Robert Stephens (Polixenes) in small roles and it is good to see them as central characters for a change. Leontes' claustrophobic madness is particularly well done. The text makes his transition to sanity very abrupt; Kemp plays him as a man shocked into gentleness.

The shepherd community is played very broadly; perhaps that is the right way to do it. The "statue" scene could have been better arranged.

This seems to me to be one of Shakespeare's most "classic" plays. The plot might have been done in ancient times, although the theme of romantic love would have been reduced.