William Shakespeare Analysis

William Shakespeare and Censorship

Author Profile

Censorship of Shakespeare’s plays began in the author’s lifetime. In 1581 England’s Queen Elizabeth I ordered that all plays to be performed should first be submitted to the Master of the Revels for examination for political and religious sedition. In 1607 this requirement was extended to the printing of plays. At least two of Shakespeare’s plays are believed to have fallen foul of the censor: Richard II (1597) and Henry IV, parts I and II (1598). Richard II contains a scene in which Richard is deposed. After the Earl of Essex’s unsuccessful revolt against Elizabeth in 1601, the queen complained that a certain play, probably Shakespeare’s Richard II, had been publicly performed to encourage insurrection. On the eve of the rebellion Essex’s followers had sponsored Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, to perform the play. The censor subsequently judged the deposition scene to be too politically sensitive to be performed. It was omitted from all editions of the play until 1608, after Elizabeth’s death.

Henry IV provoked animosity because of its use of the names Oldcastle, Harvey, and Russell for characters. Descendants of these historical figures objected to the unflattering portrayals of their ancestors, so Shakespeare rechristened the characters Falstaff, Bardolph, and Peto.

In 1642, after the execution of Charles I, England became a Commonwealth under the governance of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, a Puritan, closed the theaters and banned the performance of stage plays, including Shakespeare’s. The ban did not include musical entertainments, however, so Shakespeare’s plays, along with others, were adapted to accommodate enough music to make them legal.

The Restoration

With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, stage plays made a limited comeback. Charles II licensed just two theaters in London (compared with the sixteen that had operated from 1576 to 1614). One holder of a license was Sir William Davenant, who was given Shakespeare’s plays to “reform and make fit” for performance by the actors under his management. Davenant typified an attitude to Shakespeare that was born in the Restoration and survived into the nineteenth century—that Shakespeare was a genius who had the misfortune to live in a barbaric age and therefore lacked decorum. He portrayed unpleasant situations and placed rough language in the mouths of royalty. Accordingly, Davenant’s version of Macbeth does not contain the death of Lady Macduff, and Macbeth’s unkind words to a servant “The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!/Where gott’st thou that goose look?” became, “Now, Friend, what means thy change of Countenance?”

In another Restoration version of Measure for Measure, Angelo turns out to be a hero, declaring that he loved Isabella all the time and was only testing her. The poet and critic John Dryden adapted many of Shakespeare’s plays according to contemporary taste, producing such works as Truth Found too Late (1679), a version of Troilus and Cressida in which Cressida is faithful. Another notorious adapter, Nahum Tate, rewrote King Lear with a happy ending, in which Lear and Cordelia survive, Lear is restored to his throne, and Cordelia is told that she will be a queen.

Women and Censorship

Shakespeare’s portrayal of women was deemed inappropriate to the Restoration sensibility, which romanticized them as gentle, refined creatures innocent of sexual matters. Davenant’s version of Hamlet “sanitizes” Ophelia, transforming her from a full-blooded and sexually conscious woman to a silent, coy creature. Shakespeare’s Ophelia is aware of the sexual implications of Hamlet’s banter, responding with double-entendres of her own. Davenant’s Ophelia responds only with silence, denoting either embarrassment or ignorance.

Ironically, the arrival in the Restoration period of female actors also led to a kind of reverse censorship, in that Shakespeare’s plays were sometimes made bawdier. In his 1670 adaptation of The Tempest, Dryden gave Miranda a twin sister called Dorinda who specialized in sexual innuendo.

Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare became the standard acting texts of the eighteenth century. They were so widely used that many people assumed them to be Shakespeare’s own words. When, in the mid-1700’s, the actor-manager David Garrick announced a production of Macbeth “as written by Shakespeare,” there was an outcry from those who had long loved the existing version, believing it to be Shakespeare’s. In the end, Garrick compromised. He restored the original words in some scenes, but made some “improvements”: He left out Lady Macduff’s death scene, removed the crude Porter, had the witches sing and dance, and wrote a moralistic dying speech for Macbeth. In his version of Hamlet, Garrick cut out the grave-diggers because he thought low-life comedy inappropriate to tragedy. Colley Cibber’s 1700 adaptation of Richard III remained the popular acting text until well into the nineteenth century, and some of Cibber’s additions even survived into Laurence Olivier’s film version of 1955.

An incident of 1795 revealed much about eighteenth century attitudes toward Shakespeare. A forger called William Henry Ireland printed an expurgation of King Lear, billed as Shakespeare’s original manuscript. Ireland’s forgery fooled many. He explained after he was caught that he had cleaned up the text because people found it hard to believe that Shakespeare himself had written such “ribaldry.” King Lear also fell victim to political censorship when it was banned from the English stage from 1788 until 1820, out of respect to George III’s insanity.

Protecting Women and Youth

The year 1774 was a landmark in the history of Shakespeare bowdlerization. A drama critic, Francis Gentleman, edited complete plays for the publisher Bell. Bell’s Shakespeare aimed to make the plays “more instructive and intelligible, especially to the ladies and to youth.” Gentleman objected to such “vulgarisms” as Macbeth’s insult to his servant and Cleopatra’s threat to her maid to give her “bloody teeth.” This, Gentleman says, would be unworthy of a person “in a middling station,” let alone of a “royal character.” Bell’s edition is curiously inconsistent, however. It omits some “glaring indecencies” altogether, but Bell’s Othello has minor indecencies in italics, as a sign for ladies and youth to skip over them. Sometimes, he simply rebuked the objectionable lines in footnotes.

The most famous of all expurgated books, Dr. Thomas Bowdler’s The Family Shakspeare, appeared in 1807. The edition was intended to remove “everything that can raise a blush on the cheek of modesty.” Its success inspired a number of other expurgations, such as the Reverend J. Pitman’s School-Shakspere (1822). Pitman aimed to provide a more rigorous expurgation than Bowdler’s. In most cases he succeeded, cutting the drunken Porter’s speech in Macbeth from twenty lines to three, as compared with Bowdler’s six. He did not stop short of eliminating entire characters, such as Touchstone and Audrey in As You Like It.

The Backlash Against Expurgation

The nineteenth century saw the beginning of a countermovement to expurgation. Actor-managers such as Robert W. Elliston, William Charles Macready, and Samuel Phelps staged performances with partly restored texts. In 1823 Elliston restored the tragic ending of King Lear, and in 1838 Macready reintroduced the Fool after decades of absence from the play. Elliston’s 1821 restoration of Richard III shocked some people, including a Times critic, who thought it a new arrangement, not a return to Shakespeare, and declared it dramatically inferior to the generally used Cibber version. Phelps finished the task that Elliston had begun, virtually eliminating the use of Cibber’s Richard III.

Other actor-managers were less scrupulous in their fidelity to Shakespeare’s texts, manipulating them to suit their own interpretations of roles and to protect the sensibilities of audiences. For example, in 1885 William Kendal adapted As You Like It so that the cantankerous Jacques “became more reasonable.” Henry Irving’s edition of Macbeth cuts the murder of Banquo and Fleance, and Lady Macduff’s death scene.

Another blow for authenticity was struck in 1843, when Parliament removed the monopoly that, since the Restoration, had confined the performance of plays to two London theaters. To circumvent the ban (and feed the popular mania for elaborate spectacle), non-licensed theaters had disguised Shakespeare’s plays with spurious elements—pageants, dancing, and singing. After the ban was lifted, a large number of theaters began to produce the plays “straight,” with greater sensitivity to his original texts.

Censorship in Schools

Meanwhile, the Shakespeare expurgation industry was thriving in America, fostered by the growing demand for school texts. In 1849 the first American expurgation of the plays in dramatic form was published: the Shaksperian Reader, edited by Professor John W. S. Hows. Hows wrote an apologetic preface, confessing his veneration for the “pure unmutilated text,” but explaining that without revision, Shakespeare could not be used as a class book or for family reading. Hows cut mercilessly, removing Falstaff completely from Henry IV, part I, and stopping Othello at the end of the third act. He also added four years to Juliet’s age in Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare makes her not quite fourteen).

Expurgation of school texts continued unabated into the twentieth century. Back in 1750, Garrick cut Juliet’s ardent wish that Romeo would hurry and deprive her of her maidenhead. Bowdler removed the same lines. Nearly two centuries later, a 1985 survey revealed that American school texts, including those of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; Scott, Foresman; Macmillan; Ginn; McDougal, Littell and Company; and McGraw Hill, had also cut the lines. Scott, Foresman’s Romeo and Juliet cut more than three hundred lines, mostly sexual allusions. For example, Romeo’s line, “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight” was changed to “ . . . I will be with thee tonight.” In 1985 a ninth-grade student in Vienna, Virginia, protested these cuts. His teacher responded by supplying the class with a full text and discussing the cuts with the students. In the media debate that followed, some school editions were criticized for failing to state that they were abridged. Ginn, for example, omitted four hundred lines from its Romeo and Juliet, yet claimed in its teachers’ edition that the play was “presented here as Shakespeare wrote it.”

Political censorship manifested in the twentieth century in the form of political correctness. Groups monitoring discrimination on grounds of sex, race, religion, and disability found plenty to object to in Shakespeare. In 1931 The Merchant of Venice was eliminated from high school curricula in Buffalo and Manchester, New York, in response to pressure from Jewish organizations, who believed it fostered anti-Semitism. On the twentieth century stage and on film, directors continued to cut Shakespeare—not because it was bawdy, but for reasons of length or obscurity. Often they “interpreted” plays to emphasize a political or philosophical standpoint, sometimes with acclaimed results, sometimes with a decidedly reductionist effect. There has been an antifascist interpretation of Julius Caesar with jack-booted crowds saluting Caesar, and a feminist version of The Taming of the Shrew in which Kate ends her speech of submission to her husband by spitting in his eye.

Bibliography

Bate, Jonathan. The Genius of Shakespeare. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Explores the extraordinary staying-power of Shakespeare’s work. Bate opens by taking up questions of authorship, asking, for example, Who was Shakespeare, based on the little documentary evidence we have? Which works really are attributable to him? How extensive was the influence of Christopher Marlowe? Bate goes on to trace Shakespeare’s canonization and near-deification, examining not only the uniqueness of his status among English-speaking readers but also his effect on literate cultures across the globe.

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998. For a review of Bloom’s work see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare: The Tragedies. New York: Palgrave, 2001. A study of the tragedies in chronological order.

Danson, Lawrence. Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Danson’s scholarly study examines Shakespeare’s philosophy and how it was demonstrated in his dramas. Bibliography and index.

De Grazia, Margreta, and Stanley Wells, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. This work provides an extensive guide to Shakespeare’s life and works.

Dobson, Michael, and Stanley Wells, eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2001. An encyclopedic treatment of the life and works of Shakespeare.

Donno, Elizabeth Story. “The Epyllion.” In English Poetry and Prose, 1540-1674, edited by Christopher Ricks. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1987. This brief introductory survey provides an excellent approach to Shakespeare’s mythological poems, placing them securely in their contemporary literary context. Includes basic documentary notes and a complete bibliography of all relevant materials. Fully indexed.

Draper, Ronald P. Shakespeare, the Comedies. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Draper provides an analysis of the playwright’s comedies. Bibliography and index.

Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His Life. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001. Duncan-Jones portrays Shakespeare as a man influenced by the political, social, and literary climate in which he found himself. She also examines speculative stories such as his love for a Dark Lady. Includes bibliography and index.

Holderness, Graham. Shakespeare: The Histories. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Holderness examines the historical plays of Shakespeare and the historical events on which they were based. Bibliography and index.

Honan, Park. Shakespeare: A Life. 1999. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. (See Magill’s Literary Annual review) Honan’s life of Shakespeare shuns the mythology that has grown up around the playwright and places him in the context of his age.

Kasten, David Scott. A Companion to Shakespeare. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. Offers an innovative and comprehensive picture of the theatrical, literary, intellectual and social worlds in which Shakespeare wrote and in which his plays were produced. Each individual essay stands as an authoritative account of the state of knowledge in its field, and in their totality the essays provide a compelling portrait of the historical conditions, both imaginative and institutional, that enabled Shakespeare’s great art.

Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare’s Language. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000. Between 1594 and 1608, Kermode argues, the language of Shakespeare’s plays was transformed, acquiring a new complexity that arose out of the playwright’s increasingly successful attempts to represent dramatically the excitement and confusion of thought under stress.

McConnell, Louise. Dictionary of Shakespeare. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000. A basic reference companion.

McLeish, Kenneth, and Stephen Unwin. A Pocket Guide to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: Faber and Faber, 1998. This concise guide summarizes the plots and characters of Shakespeare’s plays, providing an easy reference.

Marsh, Nicholas. Shakespeare, the Tragedies. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Marsh analyzes the tragedies of Shakespeare, providing study guides. Bibliography and index.

Proudfoot, Richard. Shakespeare: Text, Stage, and Canon. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001. A study of Shakespeare’s plays, with emphasis on their stage history and how they were produced. Bibliography and index.

Richards, Jennifer, and James Knowles, eds. Shakespeare’s Late Plays: New Readings. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. A collection of essays focusing on the playwright’s later plays, including The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Bibliography and index.

Southworth, John. Shakespeare, the Player: A Life in the Theatre. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2000. A biography that focuses on the dramatist as a member of the theater, writing for the theater in collaboration with the theater company.

Thomson, Peter. Shakespeare’s Professional Career. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Thomson examines the theatrical world of Elizabethan England to illuminate Shakespeare’s life and writings. For a review see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Vendler, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997. For a review of this closely argued aesthetic analysis of the greatest sonnets in English poetry see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Vickers, Brian. Appropriating Shakespeare: Contemporary Critical Quarrels. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993. For a review of this study see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Wells, Stanley. Shakespeare: A Life in Drama. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995. A critical introduction to Shakespeare’s life and work. For a review of this biography see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Wilson, Ian. Shakespeare: The Evidence: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Man and His Work. London: Headline, 1993. Wilson draws on documents discovered during the excavation of the site of the Globe Theatre to delve into the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare’s life, including authorship of his plays, his sexuality, his religion, and the curse he set on his own grave.

William Shakespeare The Restoration (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, stage plays made a limited comeback. Charles II licensed just two theaters in London (compared with the sixteen that had operated from 1576 to 1614). One holder of a license was Sir William Davenant, who was given Shakespeare’s plays to “reform and make fit” for performance by the actors under his management. Davenant typified an attitude to Shakespeare that was born in the Restoration and survived into the nineteenth century—that Shakespeare was a genius who had the misfortune to live in a barbaric age and therefore lacked decorum. He portrayed unpleasant situations and placed rough language in the mouths of royalty. Accordingly, Davenant’s version of Macbeth does not contain the death of Lady Macduff, and Macbeth’s unkind words to a servant “The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!/Where gott’st thou that goose look?” became, “Now, Friend, what means thy change of Countenance?”

In another Restoration version of Measure for Measure, Angelo turns out to be a hero, declaring that he loved Isabella all the time and was only testing her. The poet and critic John Dryden adapted many of Shakespeare’s plays according to contemporary taste, producing such works as Truth Found too Late (1679), a version of Troilus and Cressida in which Cressida is faithful. Another notorious adapter, Nahum Tate, rewrote King Lear with a happy ending, in which Lear and Cordelia survive, Lear is restored to his throne, and Cordelia is told that she will be a queen.

William Shakespeare Life’s Work (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The London theater, in Shakespeare’s day, was made up of companies of men and boys (women were not allowed on the Renaissance English stage but were played by young men or boys). These actors performed in public playhouses roughly modeled on old innyards. The theaters were open to the air, had balconies surrounding the pit and stage, and held from two to three thousand people. A group known as the University Wits — John Lyly, George Peele, Thomas Lodge, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, and Christopher Marlowe—dominated the drama. Shakespeare learned his art by imitating these Oxford and Cambridge men, but for him they were a difficult group to join. They looked down on most actors and on those playwrights, such as Thomas Kyd, who had not attended a university. Shakespeare offended on both counts, and Robert Greene expressed his resentment in the posthumously published book Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance (1592), which included a famous warning to three fellow “gentlemen” playwrights:Yes, trust them [the players] not: for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapt in a player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.

Greene’s literary executor, Henry Chettle, later published an apology for this slur on Shakespeare, with its pun on his name and its parody of a line from Henry VI, Part III. On meeting him, Chettle found Shakespeare’s “demeanor no less civil than he, excellent in the quality he professes. Besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art.”

Actually, Greene’s judgment of Shakespeare’s early work is more accurate. The early plays are far from excellent; they include some of the most slavish imitations in Renaissance English drama, as Shakespeare tried his hand at the various popular modes. The interminable three-part history play Henry VI (Part I, wr. 1589-1590, pr. 1592, pb. 1623; Part II, pr. c. 1590-1591, pb. 1594; Part III, pr. c. 1590-1591, pb. 1595), as Greene notes, makes bombastic attempts at Marlowe’s powerful blank verse. In The Comedy of Errors (pr. c. 1592-1594), based on Plautus’s Menaechmi (The Twin Menaechmi, 1595), and in the Senecan tragedy Titus Andronicus (pr., pb. 1594), Shakespeare showed his ability to copy Roman models down to the smallest detail, even if he did lack a university degree. Apparently, he also lacked confidence in his own imagination and learned slowly. Richard III (pr. c. 1592-1593, pb. 1597, revised 1623), however, showed promise in the malignant character of Richard, while The Taming of the Shrew (pr. c. 1593-1594, pb. 1623) offered its rambunctious love-fight.

Despite their imitative nature and many other faults, Shakespeare’s early plays—notably the Henry VI plays—were popular onstage, but his greatest early popularity came from two long narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). Shakespeare wrote these two poems during the two years that the plague closed down the London theaters. He dedicated the poems to a patron, the young Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton, who may have granted him a substantial monetary reward in return. In any event, when the theaters reopened in 1594, the acting companies were almost decimated financially, but Shakespeare was in a position to buy or otherwise acquire a partnership in one of the newly reorganized companies, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Henceforth, Shakespeare earned money not only from the plays he had written or in which he acted but also from a share of the profits of every company performance. The financial arrangement seemed to inspire his creative efforts, for he set about writing the plays that made him famous, beginning with Romeo and Juliet (pr. c. 1595-1596, pb. 1597) and going on to the great history plays and comedies, including Richard II (pr. c. 1595-1596, pb. 1600), Henry IV (Part I, pr. c. 1597-1598, pb. 1598; Part II, pr. 1598, pb. 1600), Henry V (pr. c. 1598-1599, pb. 1600), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (pr. c. 1595-1596, pb. 1600), The Merchant of Venice (pr. c. 1596-1597, pb. 1600), Much Ado About Nothing (pr. c. 1598-1599, pb. 1600), As You Like It (pr. c. 1599-1600, pb. 1623), and Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will (pr. c. 1600-1602, pb. 1623).

At about the time Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet and Richard II, he probably also began his great sonnet sequence, not published until 1609. The 154 sonnets, tracing a friendship with a young man, sometimes called the “Fair Youth,” and a romance with a “Dark Lady,” raise the question of how Shakespeare lived when he was away from Stratford, where his wife and children presumably remained. The young man might be a patron—perhaps Southampton, though other names have also been proposed—and the Dark Lady strictly imaginary, created to overturn the sonnets’ trite Petrarchan conventions. Other speculations favor a more personal interpretation, seeing an actual ménage à trois of the poet, the Fair Youth, and the Dark Lady. All the questions raised by the sonnets remain open, and the only evidence about how Shakespeare spent his spare time in London indicates that he sometimes frequented taverns (notably the Mermaid) with his fellow playwrights and players.

Evidence also indicates that he remained in close contact with Stratford-upon-Avon, to which he probably returned as frequently as possible. He used his earnings from the theater to install himself as the town’s leading citizen, buying New Place as a family residence in 1597 and thereafter steadily amassing other land and property. In 1596, his father John was granted a hereditary coat of arms (or his son may have purchased it for him) and thus became a gentleman, a status he had never achieved on his own. Unfortunately, also in 1596, Shakespeare suffered a setback when his son, Hamnet, died at the age of eleven. Shakespeare’s affection for his two remaining children, Susanna and Judith, may be reflected in the witty, saucy, but lovable heroines of his great comedies.

Shakespeare’s company in London prospered. In 1599, it stopped renting theaters and built its own, the Globe , which increased company profits. The company was a favorite of the reigning monarchs, who paid well for special performances at court—first Elizabeth I and then, after 1603, James I, who loved the theater even more and renamed Shakespeare’s company the King’s Men. The company also began performing most of the plays of Ben Jonson , who ranked second only to Shakespeare and who excelled at satiric comedy. Shakespeare turned to tragedy, first writing Julius Caesar (pr. c. 1599-1600, pb. 1623) and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (pr. c. 1600-1601, pb. 1603) and then—one after another—Othello, the Moor of Venice (pr. 1604, pb. 1622, revised 1623), King Lear (pr. c. 1605-1606, pb. 1608), Macbeth (pr. 1606, pb. 1623), and Antony and Cleopatra (pr. c. 1606-1607, pb. 1623).

Yet even during this period—perhaps the high point in the history of Western drama—Shakespeare’s company had its problems. One was the competition of the boys’ companies, which performed in the private theaters—small indoor theaters that charged higher admission and appealed to a more exclusive audience than the public theaters. In 1608, the King’s Men acquired one of the private theaters, the Blackfriars , plus the services of two playwrights who wrote for it, the collaborators Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher . With their light, witty comedy and melodramatic tragicomedy, represented by such plays as The Knight of the Burning Pestle (pr. 1607), Philaster: Or, Love Lies A-Bleeding (pr. c. 1609), and A King and No King (pr. 1611), Beaumont and Fletcher introduced a new “cavalier” style into Renaissance English drama that ultimately eclipsed even Shakespeare’s popularity and perhaps hurried his retirement. It is uncertain whether they or Shakespeare introduced tragicomedy, but Shakespeare’s final complete plays are in this fashionable new mode: Pericles, Prince of Tyre (pr. c. 1607-1608, pb. 1609), Cymbeline (pr. c. 1609-1610, pb. 1623), The Winter’s Tale (pr. c. 1610-1611, pb. 1623), and The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623). After Beaumont married an heiress and stopped writing plays in 1612 or 1613, Shakespeare collaborated with Fletcher, and possibly others, on Henry VIII (pr. 1613, pb. 1623), The Two Noble Kinsmen (pr. c. 1612-1613, pb. 1634), and Cardenio (now lost).

By 1608, when his productivity dropped to one or two plays per year, Shakespeare may have spent part of each year in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 1607, his elder daughter had married Dr. John Hall, the local physician, and in 1608, with the birth of their daughter, Elizabeth, Shakespeare became a grandfather. Around 1613, he retired completely to Stratford-upon-Avon, though he also joined John Heminge, a partner in the King’s Men, and William Johnson, the host of the Mermaid Tavern, in purchasing the gatehouse of the Blackfriars priory, probably for London visits. On February 10, 1616, his younger daughter, Judith, at the age of thirty-one, married Thomas Quiney, a member of another prominent Stratford family. On March 25, 1616, Shakespeare made out his last will and testament, leaving most of his estate to Susanna, a substantial amount of money to Judith, and his “second best bed” to Anne. He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

In 1623, Shakespeare’s surviving partners in the King’s Men, John Heminge and Henry Condell, published a collection of his plays now known as the First Folio. The portrait included in the First Folio depicts Shakespeare with a short mustache, large, staring eyes, and an oval face accentuated by his high, balding forehead and the remaining hair that almost covers his ears. The bust erected above his grave is similar, except that he has a goatee and the balding has progressed further. The First Folio portrait resembles a soulful intellectual, while the Stratford bust suggests a prominent burgher.

William Shakespeare Achievements (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

William Shakespeare also wrote some of the greatest love poems in English. His short erotic narratives, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, were typical examples of fashionable literary genres. Other minor poems include contributions to the miscellany The Passionate Pilgrim and The Phoenix and the Turtle, written for a collection of poems appended to Love’s Martyr (1601), an allegorical treatment of love by Robert Chester. All these pale alongside the sonnets, which, in an age of outstanding love poetry, attain a depth, suggestiveness, and power rarely duplicated in the history of humankind’s passionate struggle to match desire with words.

William Shakespeare Women and Censorship (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Shakespeare’s portrayal of women was deemed inappropriate to the Restoration sensibility, which romanticized them as gentle, refined creatures innocent of sexual matters. Davenant’s version of Hamlet “sanitizes” Ophelia, transforming her from a full-blooded and sexually conscious woman to a silent, coy creature. Shakespeare’s Ophelia is aware of the sexual implications of Hamlet’s banter, responding with double-entendres of her own. Davenant’s Ophelia responds only with silence, denoting either embarrassment or ignorance.

Ironically, the arrival in the Restoration period of female actors also led to a kind of reverse censorship, in that Shakespeare’s plays were sometimes made bawdier. In his 1670 adaptation of The Tempest, Dryden gave Miranda a twin sister called Dorinda who specialized in sexual innuendo.

Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare became the standard acting texts of the eighteenth century. They were so widely used that many people assumed them to be Shakespeare’s own words. When, in the mid-1700’s, the actor-manager David Garrick announced a production of Macbeth “as written by Shakespeare,” there was an outcry from those who had long loved the existing version, believing it to be Shakespeare’s. In the end, Garrick compromised. He restored the original words in some scenes, but made some “improvements”: He left out Lady Macduff’s death scene, removed the crude Porter, had the witches sing and dance, and wrote a moralistic dying speech for Macbeth. In his version of Hamlet, Garrick cut out the grave-diggers because he thought low-life comedy inappropriate to tragedy. Colley Cibber’s 1700 adaptation of Richard III remained the popular acting text until well into the nineteenth century, and some of Cibber’s additions even survived into Laurence Olivier’s film version of 1955.

An incident of 1795 revealed much about eighteenth century attitudes toward Shakespeare. A forger called William Henry Ireland printed an expurgation of King Lear, billed as Shakespeare’s original manuscript. Ireland’s forgery fooled many. He explained after he was caught that he had cleaned up the text because people found it hard to believe that Shakespeare himself had written such “ribaldry.” King Lear also fell victim to political censorship when it was banned from the English stage from 1788 until 1820, out of respect to George III’s insanity.

William Shakespeare Other Literary Forms (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

ph_0111205270-Shakespeare.jpgWilliam Shakespeare Published by Salem Press, Inc.

William Shakespeare is perhaps the world’s greatest dramatist—certainly, at the very least, the greatest to write in English. Of his thirty-seven plays, written over a career in the theater that spanned, roughly, 1588 to 1613, the most important are Romeo and Juliet (pr. c. 1595-1596); Henry IV, Parts I and II (pr. c. 1597-1598; 1598); Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (pr. c. 1600-1601); Othello, The Moor of Venice (pr. 1604); Measure for Measure (pr. 1604); King Lear (pr. c. 1605-1606); Macbeth (pr. 1606); Antony and Cleopatra (pr. c. 1606-1607); The Winter’s Tale (pr. c. 1610-1611); and The Tempest (pr. 1611).

William Shakespeare Achievement and Influence (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The two portraits of Shakespeare portray the two parts of his nature. On one hand, he possessed immense intellectual curiosity about the motives and actions of people. This curiosity, plus his facility with language, enabled him to write his masterpieces and to create characters who are better known than some important figures in world history. On the other hand, reflecting his middle-class background, Shakespeare was himself motivated by strictly bourgeois instincts; he was more concerned with acquiring property and cementing his social position in Stratford than he was with preserving his plays for posterity. If his partners had not published the First Folio, there would be no Shakespeare as he is known today: still acted and enjoyed, the most widely studied and translated writer, the greatest poet and dramatist in the English and perhaps any language.

Besides his ability to create a variety of unforgettable characters, there are at least two other qualities that account for Shakespeare’s achievement. One of these is his love of play with language, ranging from the lowest pun to some of the world’s best poetry. His love of language sometimes makes him difficult to read, particularly for young students, but frequently the meaning becomes clear in a well-acted version. The second quality is his openness, his lack of any restrictive point of view, ideology, or morality. Shakespeare was able to embrace, identify with, and depict an enormous range of human behavior, from the good to the bad to the indifferent. The capaciousness of his language and vision thus help account for the universality of his appeal.

Shakespeare’s lack of commitment to any didactic point of view has often been deplored. Yet he is not entirely uncommitted; rather, he is committed to what is human. Underlying his broad outlook is Renaissance Humanism, a synthesis of Christianity and classicism that is perhaps the best development of the Western mind and finds its best expression in his work. This same generous outlook was apparently expressed in Shakespeare’s personality, which, like his bourgeois instincts, defies the Romantic myth of the artist. He was often praised by his fellows, but friendly rival and ferocious satirist Ben Jonson said it best: “He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature,” and “He was not of an age, but for all time.”

William Shakespeare Protecting Women and Youth (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The year 1774 was a landmark in the history of Shakespeare bowdlerization. A drama critic, Francis Gentleman, edited complete plays for the publisher Bell. Bell’s Shakespeare aimed to make the plays “more instructive and intelligible, especially to the ladies and to youth.” Gentleman objected to such “vulgarisms” as Macbeth’s insult to his servant and Cleopatra’s threat to her maid to give her “bloody teeth.” This, Gentleman says, would be unworthy of a person “in a middling station,” let alone of a “royal character.” Bell’s edition is curiously inconsistent, however. It omits some “glaring indecencies” altogether, but Bell’s Othello has minor indecencies in italics, as a sign for ladies and youth to skip over them. Sometimes, he simply rebuked the objectionable lines in footnotes.

The most famous of all expurgated books, Dr. Thomas Bowdler’s The Family Shakspeare, appeared in 1807. The edition was intended to remove “everything that can raise a blush on the cheek of modesty.” Its success inspired a number of other expurgations, such as the Reverend J. Pitman’s School-Shakspere (1822). Pitman aimed to provide a more rigorous expurgation than Bowdler’s. In most cases he succeeded, cutting the drunken Porter’s speech in Macbeth from twenty lines to three, as compared with Bowdler’s six. He did not stop short of eliminating entire characters, such as Touchstone and Audrey in As You Like It.

William Shakespeare Discussion Topics (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What does William Shakespeare consider the proper relationship between rulers and subjects in society?

In his sonnet sequence, Shakespeare writes repeatedly about poets and poetry. What does he see as the role for poetry in society?

What would Shakespeare consider to be the ideal relationship between parents and children?

How does Shakespeare make use of history in creating the plots of his plays?

What dramatic use does Shakespeare make of minor characters in his plays, especially characters from the lower classes?

In portraying women, in what ways is Shakespeare bound by attitudes toward gender relationships common to his own age? Is there evidence that he represents a more modern view regarding such relationships?

Many of Shakespeare’s works deal with matters of romantic love. How does he use conventions from the medieval courtly love tradition, and in what ways does he present more progressive views of romantic relationships?

How does Shakespeare make use of Renaissance conventions of dramatic tragedy? How does he modify these for specific thematic purposes in plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, or Julius Caesar?

William Shakespeare The Backlash Against Expurgation (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The nineteenth century saw the beginning of a countermovement to expurgation. Actor-managers such as Robert W. Elliston, William Charles Macready, and Samuel Phelps staged performances with partly restored texts. In 1823 Elliston restored the tragic ending of King Lear, and in 1838 Macready reintroduced the Fool after decades of absence from the play. Elliston’s 1821 restoration of Richard III shocked some people, including a Times critic, who thought it a new arrangement, not a return to Shakespeare, and declared it dramatically inferior to the generally used Cibber version. Phelps finished the task that Elliston had begun, virtually eliminating the use of Cibber’s Richard III.

Other actor-managers were less scrupulous in their fidelity to Shakespeare’s texts, manipulating them to suit their own interpretations of roles and to protect the sensibilities of audiences. For example, in 1885 William Kendal adapted As You Like It so that the cantankerous Jacques “became more reasonable.” Henry Irving’s edition of Macbeth cuts the murder of Banquo and Fleance, and Lady Macduff’s death scene.

Another blow for authenticity was struck in 1843, when Parliament removed the monopoly that, since the Restoration, had confined the performance of plays to two London theaters. To circumvent the ban (and feed the popular mania for elaborate spectacle), non-licensed theaters had disguised Shakespeare’s plays with spurious elements—pageants, dancing, and singing. After the ban was lifted, a large number of theaters began to produce the plays “straight,” with greater sensitivity to his original texts.

William Shakespeare Censorship in Schools (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Meanwhile, the Shakespeare expurgation industry was thriving in America, fostered by the growing demand for school texts. In 1849 the first American expurgation of the plays in dramatic form was published: the Shaksperian Reader, edited by Professor John W. S. Hows. Hows wrote an apologetic preface, confessing his veneration for the “pure unmutilated text,” but explaining that without revision, Shakespeare could not be used as a class book or for family reading. Hows cut mercilessly, removing Falstaff completely from Henry IV, part I, and stopping Othello at the end of the third act. He also added four years to Juliet’s age in Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare makes her not quite fourteen).

Expurgation of school texts continued unabated into the twentieth century. Back in 1750, Garrick cut Juliet’s ardent wish that Romeo would hurry and deprive her of her maidenhead. Bowdler removed the same lines. Nearly two centuries later, a 1985 survey revealed that American school texts, including those of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; Scott, Foresman; Macmillan; Ginn; McDougal, Littell and Company; and McGraw Hill, had also cut the lines. Scott, Foresman’s Romeo and Juliet cut more than three hundred lines, mostly sexual allusions. For example, Romeo’s line, “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight” was changed to “ . . . I will be with thee tonight.” In 1985 a ninth-grade student in Vienna, Virginia, protested these cuts. His teacher responded by supplying the class with a full text and discussing the cuts with the students. In the media debate that followed, some school editions were criticized for failing to state that they were abridged. Ginn, for example, omitted four hundred lines from its Romeo and Juliet, yet claimed in its teachers’ edition that the play was “presented here as Shakespeare wrote it.”

Political censorship manifested in the twentieth century in the form of political correctness. Groups monitoring discrimination on grounds of sex, race, religion, and disability found plenty to object to in Shakespeare. In 1931 The Merchant of Venice was eliminated from high school curricula in Buffalo and Manchester, New York, in response to pressure from Jewish organizations, who believed it fostered anti-Semitism. On the twentieth century stage and on film, directors continued to cut Shakespeare—not because it was bawdy, but for reasons of length or obscurity. Often they “interpreted” plays to emphasize a political or philosophical standpoint, sometimes with acclaimed results, sometimes with a decidedly reductionist effect. There has been an antifascist interpretation of Julius Caesar with jack-booted crowds saluting Caesar, and a feminist version of The Taming of the Shrew in which Kate ends her speech of submission to her husband by spitting in his eye.

William Shakespeare Shakespeare on Film

Preface to the Film Reviews

Preface to the Film Reviews:
Just because a film is named after one of Shakespeare's plays and credits him as a writer, it does not follow that the film will be Shakespeare's play. In fact, it is almost a movie-industry-wide practice to cut more than two-thirds of the text. This cutting is done for several reasons, but primarily because (1) cutting allows the director more freedom in presenting his interpretation of the text of the play, and (2) most modern audiences are uncomfortable sitting through a film that lasts longer than 120 to 150 minutes. Therefore, for the following films, textual analysis is kept to a minimum. A critical analysis of the text may be found at any of our click-guides to the plays.

It should be noted that the only complete series of all of Shakespeare's plays is the BBC Shakespeare Series, which were done in period costume and formatted for television. They are done using full texts, but are also subject to directorial choices. It is important to remember that these films are interpretations of Shakespeare's plays.

Henry V (1944)

World War II was at its height, and it was becoming obvious that if the British were to prevent invasion by Hitler, they would have to do something drastic. Building morale among their people and their troops became a priority. Laurence Olivier rose to the occasion, and, despite a shortage of resources, filmed this excellent treatment of Henry V, his first effort at Shakespeare on film. No other film, with the possible exception of Shakespeare in Love, sets the scene the way Olivier does. The film opens with an audience filing into a recreated Globe Theatre in Elizabethan London. As the Chorus proceeds, the setting moves to the court of Henry V, the king who had fought and won France for the English. Olivier purposely chose to focus on the patriotic themes of the play, and the result was that the film was an overwhelming success. It does have its quirks, however. In the 'unto the breach' scene, Olivier had to make do with American soldiers for Henry's army. They can be identified as the ones with their helmets on the back of their heads like baseball caps. Because England had been devastated by the blitz, the set was Ireland. But it was the spirit of non-defeat and patriotism that Olivier captured so well. Even the courting scene of Katherine and Henry has a fairy-tale beauty about it. Although some of the bits, such as the 'leek' scene with Fluellen, may be a little difficult to understand, this film explains why Olivier was so respected for his in Shakespeare on film and set the standard for the remainder of the 20th century. This film is a must-see. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Chorus: Leslie Banks; Archbishop of Canterbury: Felix Aylmer; Bishop of Ely: Robert Helpmann; English Herald: Vernon Greeves; Earl of Westmorland: Gerald Case; Earl of Salisbury: Griffith Jones; Sir Thomas Erpingham: Morland Graham; Duke of Exeter: Nicholas Hannen; Duke of Gloucester: Michael Warre; King Henry V: Laurence Olivier; Mountjoy: Ralph Truman; Duke of Berri: Ernest Thesiger; Lieutenant Bardolph: Roy Emerton; Ancient Pistol: Robert Newton; Mistress Quickly: Freda Jackson; Boy: George Cole; Sir John Falstaff: George Robey; King Charles VI of France: Harcourt Williams; Duke of Bourbon: Russell Thorndike; Constable of France: Leo Genn; Duke of Orleans: Francis Lister; The Dauphin: Max Adrian; French Messenger: Jonathan Field; Fluellen: Esmond Knight; Captain Gower: Michael Shepley; Captain Jamie: John Laurie; Captain MacMorris: Niall MacGinnis; Governor of Harfleur: Frank Tickle; Princess Katherine: Renee Asherson; Alice: Ivy St. Helier; Queen Isabel of France: Janet Burnell; Court: Brian Nissen; Bates: Arthur Hambling; Williams: Jimmy Hanley; Priest: Ernest Hare; Duke of Burgundy: Valentine Dyall.

Director: Reginald Beck, Laurence Olivier; Writers: Dallas Bower, Alan Dent, Laurence Olivier, William Shakespeare; Producers: Dallas Bower, Filippo Del Guidice, Laurence Olivier; Production Company: Two Cities Films Ltd. (UK).

Colour. Runtime: 135 mins.

Henry V (1989)

Like Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh's first foray into Shakespeare on film was Henry V. Branagh, however, was under no mandate to make the film as propaganda for a world war effort, and, therefore, the director/screenwriter was free to portray the blood and dirt of war in graphic detail. Branagh is a strong effective king in this piece presented in period costume, and the audience firmly believes that the Dauphin doesn't stand a chance against him. The soldiers are a tough lot and they fight amidst the smoke and fire of a frightening real battlefield. Henry's rejection of his former friends and their execution illustrates not only Henry's strength as a king, but his moral conviction as a man. Henry does have a tender side, however, and in the courting scene with Katherine, played by Emma Thompson, Branagh is the quintessential romantic hero. For Thompson, she brings a freshness and spirit to Katherine that truly complements her soon-to-husband's disposition. The rest of the cast, drawn from the cream of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre (UK), are superb in their roles and the entire film rings with a truthfulness about the need for, and the cost, of war. This one is a must-see. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Narrator: Derek Jacobi; Henry V: Kenneth Branagh; Gloucester: Simon Shepherd; Bedford: James Larkin; Exeter: Brian Blessed; York: James Simmons; Canterbury: Charles Kay; Ely: Alec McCowen; Cambridge: Fabian Cartwright; Scroop: Stephen Simms; Grey: Jay Villiers; Erpingham: Edward Jewesbury; Fluellen: Ian Holm; Gower: Daniel Webb; Jamy: Jimmy Yuill; Macmorris: John Sessions; Bates: Shaun Prendergast; Court: Patrick Doyle; Williams: Michael Williams; Bardolph: Richard Briers; Nym: Geoffrey Hutchings; Pistol: Robert Stephens; Falstaff: Robbie Coltrane; Falstaff's Boy: Christian Bale; Mistress Quickly: Judi Dench; French King: Paul Scofield; Dauphin: Michael Maloney; Burgundy: Harold Innocent; Orleans: Richard Clifford; Grandpre: Colin Hurley; Constable: Richard Easton; Mountjoy: Christopher Ravenscroft; Katherine: Emma Thompson; Alice: Geraldine McEwan; Governor of Harfleur: David Lloyd Meredith; Messenger: David Parfitt; Warwick: Nicholas Ferguson; Talbot: Tom Whitehouse; Berri: Nigel Greaves; Bretagne: Julian Gartside; Soldiers: Mark Inman, Chris Armstrong.

Director; Kenneth Branagh; Writers: Kenneth Branagh, William Shakespeare; Producers: Stephen Evans, David Parfitt, Bruce Sharman; Production Companies: BBC, Renaissance Films (UK).

Colour. Runtime: 137 mins.

Macbeth (1971)

When this version of Macbeth was released in 1971 and it was noted that Hugh Hefner and the Playboy empire had a stake in it, it was roundly rejected as a serious Shakespeare film. However, over the last few decades, it has come to be appreciated as one of the finer interpretations of Shakespeare's shortest play. Roman Polanski's choices are at the opposite spectrum from Orson Welles'. Polanski portrays the Macbeths as a loving couple caught up in political games. Jon Finch's Macbeth is reluctant to become involved with the witches, who here are portrayed as old and blind, middle aged, and young and nubile. These witches are part of a coven who perform their rituals in the nude, and who have only some control over events. The murder of Duncan is shown in graphic, bloody detail, the only such visualisation on film. Lady Macbeth's suicide is also shown. But perhaps the most spectacular surprise is the rolling of Macbeth's head down the lane after it is severed from his body. The film also has a twist at the end, which, although not in the text, may be strongly suggested by Shakespeare. Unlike Welles' unrelenting film noir landscape, Polanski makes full use of magnificent cinematography to push the narrative to its inescapable end. Set in a traditional medieval period, this one is a must-see. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Cast: Macbeth: Jon Finch; Lady Macbeth: Francesca Annis; Banquo: Martin Shaw; Macduff: Terence Bayler; Ross: John Stride; Duncan: Nicholas Selby; Malcolm: Stephen Chase; Donalbain: Paul Shelley; Blind Witch: Maisie MacFarquhar; 1st Witch: Elsie Taylor; Young Witch: Noelle Rimmington; Seyton: Noel Davis; Porter: Sydney Bromley; Doctor: Richard Pearson; Gentlewoman: Patricia Mason; Murderers: Michael Balfour, Andrew McCullough; Fleance: Keith Chegwin; Lennox: Andrew Laurence; Angus: Bernard Archard; Caithness: Bruce Purchase; Mentieth: Frank Wylie; Lady Macduff: Diane Fletcher; Macduff's Son: Mark Dightam; King's Grooms: Bill Drysdale, Roy Jones; Cawdor: Vic Abbott; Minor Thanes: Ian Hogg, Geoffrey Reed, Nigel Ashton; Young Seyward: William Hobbs; Old Seyward: Alf Joint; Boy Apprentice: Paul Hennen.

Director: Director: Roman Polanski; Writers: Roman Polanski, William Shakespeare, Kenneth Tynan. Producers: Andrew Braunsberg, Hugh N. Hefner. Production Companies: Caliban Films, Playboy Productions Inc.

Colour. Runtime: 140 mins.

Richard III (1995)

Ian McKellen had long been respected as an actor and Shakespearean in Britain and Europe since 1963, but it wasn't until The Last Action Hero (1993) that Hollywood took notice. In the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, McKellen played Death, and other movies roles soon followed. In 1999, he received an Oscar nomination for his lead role in Gods and Monsters, but Richard III is a role close to McKellan's heart. In this interpretation, McKellen was writer and producer, but left the direction to Richard Longcraine. Set in the 1930s after the declaration of World War II in Europe, Richard is a general bent on taking control of the country through any means possible. Surrounded by an all-star cast that included many Americans such as Annette Bening and Robert Downey, Jr., Richard's cold calculation in his drive for throne is bone-chilling. Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott Thomas as the women who suffer most from his murderous solutions to problems are spellbinding. Their ability to delude themselves until it is too late is truly amazing. But McKellen is outstanding in his characterisation of an evil despot who knows how to use his liabilities as assets. Longcraine's attention to detail and his collaboration with McKellen on the screenplay ensure that the film is a visual spectacle and a delight for the ears. The text is clear, and not for one moment does the attention lag. This is a snappy, crisp, intense experience in the abuse of power. A must-see. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Richard III: Ian McKellen; Queen Elizabeth: Annette Bening; Buckingham: Jim Broadbent; Rivers: Robert Downey, Jr.; Clarence: Nigel Hawthorne; Lady Anne: Kristin Scott Thomas; King Edward: John Wood; Duchess of York: Maggie Smith; Hastings: Jim Carter; Stanley: Edward Hardwicke; Tyrell: Adrian Dunbar; River's Mistress/Air Hostess: Tres Hanley; Richmond: Dominic West; Archbishop: Roger Hammond; Catesby: Tim McInnerny; Ballroom Singer: Stacey Kent; Ratcliffe: Bill Paterson; Lord Mayor: Dennis Lil; George Stanley: Ryan Gilmore; Jailer: Andy Rashleigh; Prince of Wales: Marco Williamson; King Henry: Edward Jewesbury; Prince Edward: Christopher Bowen; Young Prince: Matthew Groom; Princess Elizabeth: Kate Steavenson-Payne; Brackenbury: Donald Sumpter; City Gentleman: Bruce Purchase; Subalterns: James Dreyfus, David Antrobus.

Director: Richard Longcraine; Writers: Richard Longcraine, Ian McKellen, William Shakespeare; Producers: Maria Apodiacos, Stephen Bayly, David Lascelles, Ellen Dinerman Little, Ian McKellen, Lisa Katselas Pare, Mary Richards, Joe Simon, Michele Tandy; Production Companies: Bayley/Pare Productions, British Screen, First Look Pictures Releasing, United Artists.

Colour. Runtime: 104 mins.

Romeo and Juliet (1996)

Before the release of this film, Franco Zeffirelli's version (1968) was considered the definitive one. Baz Luhrmann, however, proved that fidelity to the text and a medieval setting are not a requirement to Shakespeare on film. From the opening moments, Luhrmann takes control of the screen and does not let go. The visuals, such as turning the names of the swords in the text into the names of guns, and placing Shakespeare plays or quotations in place of a commercial product, make absolute sense. In addition, Luhrmann staunchly defended the American accents of the two leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. Luhrmann put his trust in the text and allowed himself to express his creative vision in a way that would make the story clear. He contextualises the 'death-marked love' of the 'star-crossed lovers' as a media event in a modern city, with a feud between the two corporate entities of Montague and Capulet. But perhaps his most radical idea was placing the 'balcony' scene in a swimming pool. For this, Luhrmann was severely criticised, but in actuality, there is no balcony mentioned or indicated by stage directions in the play as Shakespeare wrote it. Luhrmann demonstrates that not only can Shakespeare be fun, but also that it can be a visual treat. And it works. It works well. A must-see. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Romeo: Leonardo DiCaprio; Anchorwoman: Edwina Moore; Gregory: Zak Orth; Juliet: Claire Danes; Sampson: Jamie Kennedy; Benvolio: Dash Mihok; Attractive Girl: Lupita Ochoa; Nun: Gloria Silva; Abra: Vincent Laresca; Petruchio: Carlos Martin Manzo Otelora; Middle Age Occupants: Carolyn Valero, Paco Morayta; Tybalt: John Leguizamo; Kid with Toy Gun: Rodrigo Escandon; Station Mother: Margarita Wynne; Fulgencio Capulet: Paul Sorvino; Ted Montague: Brian Dennehy; Dave Paris: Paul Rudd; Balthasar: Jesse Bradford; Apothecary: M. Emmet Walsh; Susan Santandiago: Harriet Harris; Rich Ranchidis: Michael Corbett; Gloria Capulet, Diane Venora; The Nurse: Miriam Margolyes; Peter: Pedro Altamirano; Mercutio: Harold Perrineau; Capulet Bouncer: Mario Cimarro; Diva: Des'ree; OP Officer: Ismael Eguiarte; Father Laurence: Pete Postlethwaite; Altar Boys: Richard Barona, Fausto Barona, Alex Newman, Cory Newman; Choir Boy: Quindon Tarver; Post Haste Delivery Man: Jorge Abraham; Sacristan: John Sterlini; Undertaker: Farnesio de Bernal; Post Haste Clerk: Catalina Botello.

Director: Baz Luhrmann; Writers: William Shakespeare; Craig Pearce, Baz Luhrmann; Producers: Jill Bilcock, Martin Brown, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gabriella Martinelli; Production Companies: 20th Century Fox, Bazmark Films.

Colour. Runtime: 120 mins.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Franco Zeffirelli entered the Shakespeare on film category with a bold move: he cast Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, two unknown teenagers, as Romeo and Juliet. The startling fact was that they were the approximate age of the characters. What resulted was a film that is still cherished as the most romantic and poignant of all the films of this play. Zeffirelli, long a director and producer of operas based on Shakespeare's plays, used his Covent Garden production as a guide for this interpretation. His eye for historical accuracy and authenticity is a hallmark of all his Shakespeare films, but especially in this one that requires so many changes of scene and place. Hussey and Whiting may have been inexperienced, but their innate innocence shone through their performances. Zeffirelli created a hot, Italian world, which he knows intimately, and his caring for his subject is obvious. So powerful is the film that it set a standard that would not be challenged until 1996. A must-see. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Romeo: Leonard Whiting; Juliet: Olivia Hussey; Mercutio: John McEnery; Friar Laurence: Milo O'Shea; The Nurse: Pat Heywood; The Prince: Robert Stephens; Tybalt: Michael York; Benvolio: Bruce Robinson; Lord Capulet: Paul Hardwick; Lady Capulet: Natasha Perry; Lord Montague: Antonio Pierfederici; Lady Montague: Esmeralda Ruspoli; Paris, Roberto Bisacci; Peter: Roy Holder; Balthasar: Keith Skinner; Samson: Dyson Lovell Gregory: Richard Warwick; Narrator Prologue and Epilogue: Laurence Olivier (uncredited).

Director: Franco Zeffirelli; Writers: Franco Brusati, Maestro D'Amico, William Shakespeare, Franco Zeffirelli. Producers: John Brabourne, Richard B. Goodwin, Anthony Havelock-Allen; Production Companies: BHE Films, Dino de Laurentiis Cinematograifica (IT), Paramount Pictures, Verona Produzione (IT).

Colour. Runtime: 138 mins.

Hamlet (1948)

When Laurence Olivier came to the rescue of the morale of British soldiers during World War II with Henry V, he became the unofficial guardian of Shakespeare on film. This film has been considered a classic since its release, and earned Olivier an Oscar for his performance. However, by today's standards, Olivier's Hamlet seems stiff and a bit stodgy. Olivier delivers a Hamlet that is very introverted and psychologically unstable. A psychiatrist friend who believed that Hamlet suffered from an Oedipus complex, so named because the eponymous hero of the ancient Greek play kills his father and marries his mother had influenced Olivier. In Olivier's film, Hamlet is very much a 'Mama's boy', and spends an inordinate amount of time on the ramparts of a studio Elsinore talking to himself in voice-over which gives the audience access to his thoughts. Done in traditional costume, the film is dark and sobering, and Jean Simmons's performance as Ophelia is a landmark in film presentation of madness. In the 'nunnery' scene, it is hard not to hate Hamlet for rejecting Ophelia's love. The film cuts the entire Fortinbras thread of the play, which places the focus of the screenplay entirely on Hamlet, but even so, it gives a bird's-eye view into an acting style of the early 20th century meeting the still-young medium of film. It also was one of the first times that an actor directed, wrote, and produced his own film. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Hamlet: Laurence Olivier; Gertrude: Eileen Herlie; Claudius: Basil Sydney; Polonius: Felix Aylmer; Laertes: Terence Morgan; Ophelia: Jean Simmons; Horatio: Norman Wooland; Osric: Peter Cushing; Gravedigger: Stanley Holloway; Priest: Russell Thorndike; Francisco: John Laurie; Bernardo: Esmond Knight; Marcellus: Anthony Quayle; Sea Captain: Niall MacGinnis; First Player: Harcourt Williams; Player King: Patrick Troughton. uncredited: Bit Part: Anthony Bushnell; Voice of Ghost: John Gielgud; Spear Carrier: Christopher Lee; Player Queen: Tony Tarver.

Director: Laurence Olivier; Writers: Alan Dent, Laurence Olivier; Producers: Reginald Beck, Anthony Bushnell, Laurence Olivier. Music: William Walton; Production Companies: Pilgrim Pictures, Two Cities Films Ltd. (UK).

Black and white. Runtime: 155 mins.

Hamlet (1996)

Kenneth Branagh became the heir apparent to the 'Shakespeare on Film' mantle originally given to Laurence Olivier, and although he denies that this Hamlet is like Olivier's, it is hard to ignore Branagh's dyed blonde hair. But the real problem with the film is its length — not because it is too long to sit through, but because it doesn't have to be that long. Branagh spends a good deal of screen time in extra-textual flashbacks in an effort to make clear what the text is trying to say: there is Claudius' drunkenness, a young Hamlet playing with Yorick, and Fortinbras being corrected by Old Norway. While this may be interesting to the director, it is filmic redundancy to an audience, and sometimes down right annoying. As is the music. There is lots of it, and it interferes with the actor's lines. And there are lots of those too. Because Branagh, for the first time, elected to film a 'complete' version. The problem lies in the definition of 'complete'. Shakespeare's play exists in three versions and often these three texts are combined or conflated to give what some consider a 'complete' text. This conflated text consists of more than 3500 lines and in performance on the stage could take as long as three hours because the passages that Shakespeare wrote as descriptive must be said to a live audience. Film, however, can condense these passages into visual images. Unfortunately, Branagh does not condense, but expand. The important thing that Branagh has done is preserve the political backdrop of the action in the events wrought by Fortinbras and Norway. With the invasion of Norway into Denmark at the end of the film, in a sense, it is complete. The other thing that Branagh does so well is to employ an international cast in certain roles, allowing the actors to speak in their accents. Not only does this technique add appeal for broader audience segments, but it also brings a freshness to certain scenes. In this film, however, the one flaw was the casting of Jack Lemmon as a guard at the beginning, but it is offset by Billy Crystal's performance in the 'graveyard' scene and Robin Williams' as Osric. Overall, the film gives the entire story of the play and gives the viewer a good sense of Denmark as a prison in which there is no privacy at all. And this makes it more successful than either Olivier's or Zeffirelli's version. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Attendants to Claudius: Riz Abbasi, David Blair, Peter Bygott; English Ambassador: Richard Attenborough; Ghost: Brian Blessed; Hamlet: Kenneth Branagh; Polonius: Richard Briers; Priest: Michael Bryant; Gertrude: Julie Christie; First Gravedigger: Billy Crystal; Stage Manager: Charles Daish; Hecuba: Judi Dench; Reynaldo: Gerard Depardieu; Guildenstern: Reece Dinsdale; Yorick: Ken Dodd; Attendant to Gertrude: Angela Douglas, Rowena King, Sarah Lam; Lucianus: Rob Edwards; Horatio: Nicolas Farrell; Francisco: Ray Fearon; Doctor: Yvonne Gidden; Priam: John Gielgud; Player Queen: Rosemary Harris; Player King: Charlton Heston; Cornelius: Ravil Isyanov; Claudius: Derek Jacobi; Fortinbras' Captain: Jeffrey Kissoon; Marcellus: Jack Lemon; Barnardo: Ian McElhinney; Laertes: Michael Maloney; Fortinbras' General: The Duke of Marlborough; Old Norway: John Mills; Sailors: Jimi Mistry, David Yip; Prologue: Siân Radinger; Prostitute: Melanie Ramsey; Second Gravedigger: Simon Russell Beale; Young Lord: Andrew Schofield; Fortinbras: Rufus Sewell; Rosencrantz: Timothy Spall; Young Hamlet: Tom Szekeres; First Player: Ben Thorn; Voltemand: Don Warrington; Second Player: Perdita Weeks; Osric: Robin Williams; Ophelia: Kate Winslet.

Director: Kenneth Branagh; Writers: William Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh; Producer: David Barron; Music: Patrick Doyle; Production Companies: Castle Rock Entertainment, Columbia Pictures Corporation, Fishmonger Films, Turner Pictures.

Colour. Runtime: 238 minutes.

Macbeth (1948)

When Citizen Kane was released in 1941, Orson Welles was hailed as the new wunderkind, a title previously held by Irving Thalberg in the past, and more recently, Steven Spielberg. Welles set the standard for innovative angle shots, deep focus, non-linear narrative, and tone setting. Welles, however, determined to follow his own path, and among his Shakespeare efforts, he staged a production of Macbeth that became known as the 'voodoo' Macbeth since it was set in the Caribbean. It was to this dark and foreboding atmosphere that film owes much of its own atmosphere and ideas. The film opens with a clay image that could be interpreted many ways, but as the film progresses, the audience realises that it is a symbol of Macbeth's deepening involvement with the witches. Welles' Scottish king (played with a Scottish accent), is visually a man of 'vaulting ambition', and his 'fiend-like queen', Jeanette Nolan, is a politically astute wife. Her descent into madness is entirely understandable, as her husband grows more and more distant. The murder of Duncan is like a vision from a horror film, and as the story moves from Macbeth's crowning to his defeat, the images draw both sympathy and abhorrence from the spectator. What are both a success and a drawback to the film is that its darkness and foreboding are unrelenting: there is no relief in the bleak landscape. The recent restoration of 18 minutes does not change the oppressive tone. And it is this uncomfortable feeling the film engenders in the audience that permits them to understand and internalise the madness of absolute power. Welles knows his Shakespeare, and is willing to trust the text to support his filmic ideas, especially in his portrayal of the witches, truly 'evil hags'. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Macbeth: Orson Welles; Lady Macbeth: Jeanette Nolan; Macduff: Dan O'Herlihy; Malcolm: Roddy McDowall; Banquo: Edgar Barrier; A Holy Father: Alan Napier; Duncan: Erskine Sanford; Ross: John Dierkes; Lennox: Keene Curtis; Lady Macduff/Witch: Peggy Webber; Siward: Lionel Braham; Young Siward: Archie Heuglly; Fleance: Jerry Farber; Macduff Child: Christopher Welles; Doctor: Morgan Farley; First Gentlewoman/Witch: Lurene Tuttle; First Murderer/Witch: Brainerd Duffield; 2nd Murderer: William Alland; Seyton: George Chirello; The Porter: Gus Schilling.

Director: Orson Welles; Writers: William Shakespeare (Orson Welles uncredited);Producers: Charles K. Feldman, Orson Welles, Richard Wilson; Production Companies: Literary Classics Productions, Mercury Productions, Republic Pictures Corporation.

Black and white. Runtime 107 mins. restored version; 89 mins. Original.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

After the success of Henry V, many Hollywood pundits doubted whether Kenneth Branagh could do another Shakespeare play as well. But they needn't have worried. This interpretation of one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies is one of the best. The film opens with the beautiful vistas of Italy, the returning soldiers (led by Denzel Washington), the giggles of the waiting maids. Branagh as Benedick is the perfect foil to Emma Thompson's Beatrice as they wage the verbal battle of the sexes. Tricked by their friends into believing the other is in love, their happy banter is the prelude to the serious consequences of romantic love. Beautiful Hero (Kate Beckinsale) is rejected by the handsome Claudio ( Robert Sean Leonard) at the altar. When Hero 'dies', Benedick offers to do anything for Beatrice, and she asks him to 'Kill Claudio', the line on which the whole play turns. What happens next is a skilful blend of tragedy and comedy, with the vicious intrigues of Don John (Keanu Reeves) being undone by the irrepressible Constable Dogberry (Michael Keaton). The lavish and well thought out production leads to a happy ending, and all the couples have learned a few things about love. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Seignior Leona to, Governor of Messina: Richard Briers; Hero: Kate Beckinsale; Margaret: Imelda Staunton; Friar Francis: Jimmy Yuill; Seigneur Antonio: Brian Blessed; George Seacole: Andy Hockley; Francis Seacole: Chris Barnes; Hugh Oatcake: Conrad Nelson; Ursula: Phyllida Law; Beatrice: Emma Thompson; Messenger: Alex Lowe; Don Pedro of Aragon: Denzel Washington; Don John: Keanu Reeves; Conrade: Richard Clifford; Boracchio: Gerald Horan; Count Claudio of Florence: Robert Sean Leonard; Seigneur Benedick: Kenneth Branagh; Balthasar: Patrick Doyle; The Boy: Alex Scott; Constable Dogberry: Michael Keaton; Headborough Verges: Ben Elton; Sexton: Edward Jewesbury.

Director: Kenneth Branagh; Writers: Kenneth Branagh, William Shakespeare; Producers: Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Evans, David Parfitt; Production Companies: BBC, Renaissance Films, Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Colour. Runtime: 111 mins.

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

After the fiasco of Cleopatra which forced 20th Century Fox to the brink of bankruptcy, Hollywood insiders thought Franco Zeffirelli was crazy for casting Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in this film about an out-of-control woman finding marital happiness. But Zeffirelli was convinced that the couple had special box office magic. Aside from that obvious quality, Burton and Taylor are wonderful as the warring Petruchio and Katharina. With the support of well-known British and Shakespearean actors such as Michael Holdern, Cyril Cusack, Victor Spinetti, and Michael York, and relatively unknown Italian actors, the film is done in the style for which Zeffirelli would become famous: serious attention to historical detail and a lively, clear pace. The film opens with a street carnivale that captures all the excitement of the first day at university. As the story progresses, Zeffirelli includes Burton and Taylor in a rooftop chase in the 'wooing' scene, an outrageously funny 'tailor' scene, and a stunning 'moon-sun' scene. But perhaps the most impressive scene, however, is the final one in which Kate delivers her 'submission' speech. Taylor is not only beautiful but an effective Shakespeare actor who brings warmth and pathos to the difficult role. Zeffirelli does allow a few extra-textual liberties, but they never detract from the text or the film. In his autobiography, Zeffirelli considered the making of the film as one of his best experiences in filmmaking. It shows in this wonderful entertainment. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Katharina: Elizabeth Taylor; Petruchio: Richard Burton; Grumio: Cyril Cusack; Baptista: Michael Holdern; Tranio: Alfred Lynch; Gremio: Alan Webb; Priest: Giancarlo Cobelli; Pedant: Vernon Dobtcheff; Tailor: Ken Parry; Haberdasher: Anthony Gardner; Bianca: Natasha Pyne; Lucentio: Michael York; Hortensio: Victor Spinetti; Biondello; Roy Holder; Vincentio: Mark Dignam; The Widow: Bice Valori; Nathaniel: Alberto Bonucci.

Director: Franco Zeffirelli; Writers: Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Paul Dehn, William Shakespeare, Franco Zeffirelli; Producer: Richard McWhorter; Production Companies: FAI (IT), Royal Films International.

Colour. Runtime: 122 mins.

Titus (1999)

Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, is probably the most difficult to do in terms of staging because it could very easily turn into a melodrama with the numbers of deaths, the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, and Titus' ultimate revenge. However, in the very capable hands of Julie Taymor (who directed the stage version of The Lion King), the story is not only intensely moving, but also deeply affecting. Anthony Hopkins as Titus delivers a powerful performance as a loyal soldier who comes home from the war to bury 21 of his many sons lost in battle. Titus is at the same time, mad, angry, revengeful, and pitiful as his life around him disintegrates into an array of dead children. Jessica Lange is at her best as his nemesis, Tamora. Harry Lennix's Aaron is deliciously aggressive and unrepentant. Taymor's creation of a non-period Rome in a fantasy world of bright colours and questionable morals is a visual picnic where the viewer may pick and choose a different dish every time the film is watched. And this film should be watched more than once in order to savour Taymor's sure and steady telling of this grotesque tale in which it is very clear that the future is in the children. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Young Lucius: Osheen Jones; Clown: Dario D'Ambrosi; Titus Andronicus: Anthony Hopkins; Tamora: Jessica Lange; Alarbus: Raz Degan; Chiron: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers; Demetrius: Matthew Rhys; Aaron: Harry Lennix; Lucius: Angus Mac Fadyen; Quintus: Kenny Doughty; Mutius: Blake Ritson; Martius: Colin Wells; Priest: Ettore Geri; Saturninus: Alan Cumming; Bassanius: James Frain; Marcus Andronicus: Colm Feore; Aemelius: Constantine Gregory; Lavinia: Laura Fraser; Little Girl: Tresy Taddei; Nurse: Geraldine McEwan; Infant: Bah Souleymane; Publius: Antonio Manzini; Caius: Leonardo Treviglio; Sempronius: Giacomo Gonnella; Valentin: Carlo Medici; Goth Leader: Emanuele Vezzoli; Goth Soldiers: Hermann Weisskopf, Christopher Ahrens; Goth General: Vito Fasano; Goth Lieutenant: Maurizio Rapotec; Roman Captain: Bruno Bilotta.

Director; Julie Taymor; Writers: William Shakespeare, Julie Taymor; Producers: Conchita Airoldi, Paul G. Allen, Stephen K. Bannon, Robert Bernacchi, Mark Bisgeier, Adam Leipzig, Ellen Dinerman Little, Robert Little, Brad Moseley, Jody Patton, Julie Taymor, Karen L. Thorson, Michiyo Yoshizaki; Production Companies: Clear Blue Sky Productions, NDF International, Overseas Film Group, Urania Film (IT).

Colour. Runtime: 162 mins.

Twelfth Night; or What You Will (1996)

Trevor Nunn is currently the Director of the National Theatre in London, but in 1996, during the 'Shakespeare boom', he tried his hand at film. The outcome is this very satisfying and entertaining film. In an extra-textual filmic Prologue, Nunn sets up the possibly confusing tale by clearly identifying who's who and what's what. The brother and sister team of Sebastian and Viola are entertainers on a cruise ship, which gets sunk, in a severe storm. Imogen Stubbs is wonderful as Viola, who after the 'death' of her identical twin brother (which, incidentally, is a biological impossibility – but never mind), is hired by Duke Orsino (Toby Stephens). Slowly and steadily she falls in love with her master. He, on the other hand, pines away for Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) who pines away for her dead brother (who really is dead). Olivia becomes smitten with Viola, who is now Cesario, and Antonio rescues Sebastian, who is mistaken for Cesario, and… well, it's very complicated, but, under Nunn's guidance and judicious pruning of the text, it makes complete sense. The characters involved in the subplot of Sir Toby Belch (Mel Smith) to marry his niece Olivia to the inept Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Richard E. Grant) are brilliantly played against Sir Nigel Hawthorne's Malvolio. The setting is traditional/19th century, and the cinematography captures both the isolation and togetherness in Illyria. With a cast of some of the best British actors, this comedy rolls merrily along until its happy conclusion. Most of all, this film is fun. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Viola: Imogen Stubbs; Sebastian: Steven Mackintosh; Antonio: Nicholas Farrell; Captain: Sid Livingstone; Feste: Ben Kingsley; Priest: James Walker; Olivia: Helena Bonham Carter; Malvolio: Nigel Hawthorne; Sir Toby Belch: Mel Smith; Maria: Imelda Staunton; Duke Orsino: Toby Stephens; Valentine: Alan Mitchell; Fabian: Peter Gunn; Officers: Tim Bentinck, Rod Culbertson; Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Richard E. Grant; Gardener: Jeff Hall.

Director: Trevor Nunn; Writers: Trevor Nunn, William Shakespeare. Producers: Christopher Ball, William Tyrer, Simon Curtis, Stephen Evans, David Garrett, Patrick Wachsberger, Bob Hayward, Ileeen Maisel, David Parfitt, Greg Smith, Ruth Vitale, Jonathan Weisgal; Production Companies: Newmarket Capital Group LP, BBC Films, Summit Entertainment, Renaissance Films.

Colour. Runtime: 134 mins.

Hamlet (1990)

When Franco Zeffirelli (who was a great admirer of Laurence Olivier) decided to make a film of Hamlet, he had no trouble at all selecting Mel Gibson for the role. The famous Italian director thought it would interesting to see the 'action-hero' play a man who delays action for the length of an entire play. Zeffirelli is noted for his faithfulness to period costuming and setting, and this film does not disappoint on that score. Elsinore opens the film and remains an overbearing presence as the last place that Hamlet can call home. What detracts from the film is Glenn Close's performance as Gertrude and Helena Bonham Carter's as Ophelia. Zeffirelli, believing Hamlet is a domestic tragedy, chose for the Oedipus interpretation, and omits the political thread of Fortinbras and the invasion of Denmark. Under that filter, it is difficult to see why Hamlet would have deep feelings for his mother. Bonham Carter is graceless as Ophelia, and spends a good deal of the time waddling through her madness. However, Paul Scofield as The Ghost is effectively terrifying, and Mel Gibson is surprisingly intense, lucid, and sympathetic. The best bits are the ones with Gibson, and that alone makes the film rise above mediocre to an average treatment of Shakespeare's play. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Hamlet: Mel Gibson; Gertrude: Glenn Close; Claudius: Alan Bates; The Ghost: Paul Scofield; Polonius: Ian Holm; Ophelia: Helena Bonham Carter; Horatio: Stephen Dillane; Laertes: Nathaniel Parker; Guildenstern: Sean Murray; Rosencrantz: Michael Maloney; Gravedigger: Trevor Peacock; Osric: John McEnery; Bernardo: Richard Warwick; Marcellus: Christian Anholt; Francisco: Dave Duffy; Reynaldo: Vernon Dobtcheff; Player King: Pete Postlethwaite; Player Queen: Christopher Fairbank; The Players: Sarah Phillips, Ned Mendez, Roy York, Marjorie Bell, Justin Case, Roger Low, Lucianus Gonzaga, Pamela Sinclair, Baby Simon Sinclair, Roy Evans.

Director: Franco Zeffirelli; Writers: William Shakespeare, Christopher De Vore, Franco Zeffirelli; Producer: Dyson Lovell; Music: Ennio Morricone; Production Companies: Carolco Pictures, Icon Entertainment International, Le Studio Canal+ (FR), Marquis, Nelson Entertainment, Sovereign Pictures, Warner Bros., World Icon b.v.

Colour. Runtime: 130 mins.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

On first look, this film may seem like a Branagh treatment, and one may be forgiven thinking that because of the star cast and the clarity of Shakespeare's text. However, that is where the similarity ends. This film can be summed up in one word: pretty. Ordinarily, that would be a good thing, but this treatment is almost too pretty. Set in Italy, the scenery is magnificently photographed, but as the film progresses, it becomes tiresome. Michelle Pfeiffer is shot through a heavy gauze and constantly looks sleepy. The fairy scenes are also too pretty. The only gritty pseudo-realism comes when Nick Bottom goes home to his wife, a character not in Shakespeare's play. His humiliation at the hands of the townspeople is also extra-textual, and adds nothing to Kevin Kline's fine performance as the amateur actor who wants to play all the roles in Peter Quince's play, but gets turned into an ass in the forest. Also in fine form are Rupert Everett as Oberon and Stanley Tucci as Philostrate. Most of the 'rude mechanicals' are exactly that in their characters — mechanical, and Calista Flockhart is sorrowfully miscast as Helena, as is Anna Friel in the role of Hermia. But overall, the narrative moves along at an entertaining pace, and if the saccharine prettiness can be endured, the film does provide a modicum of magic, especially in the play-within-a-play-within-a-film of Pyramus and Thisbe. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Nick Bottom: Kevin Kline; Titania: Michelle Pfeiffer; Oberon: Rupert Everett; Puck: Stanley Tucci; Hermia: Anna Friel; Helena: Calista Flockhart; Demetrius: Christian Bale; Lysander: Dominic West; Theseus: David Strathairn; Hippolyta: Sophie Marceau; Peter Quince: Roger Rees; Robin Starveling: Max Wright; Snug: Gregory Jbara; Tom Snout: Bill Irwin; Francis Flute: Sam Rockwell; Egeus: Bernard Hill; Philostrate: John Sessions; Hard-eye Fairy: Deidre Harrison; Bottom's Wife: Heather Parisi; Cobweb: Annalisa Cordone; Mustardseed: Paola Pessot; Moth: Solena Nocentini; Peaseblossom: Flaminia Fegarotti; Master Antonio: Valerio Isidori; Dangerous Boys: Daniele Finizio, Damiano Salvatori; Changeling Boy: Chomoke Bhuyian.

Director: Michael Hoffman; Writers: William Shakespeare, Michael Hoffman; Producers: Nigel Goldsack, Michael Hoffman, Arnon Milchan, Leslie Urdang, Ann Wingate. Production Companies: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Panoramica (IT), Regency Enterprises.

Colour. Runtime: 116 mins.

Othello (1965)

Given that for years since the release of his Henry V Olivier was deemed the definitive interpreter of Shakespeare, it was not entirely unexpected that Olivier's Othello would be above standard. However, what was a surprise was that at a time when the civil rights movement was at its most vigorous, Olivier donned blackface to play the lead role. There were many black actors who could have played the tormented general but it was generally believed that none of them could handle Shakespearean verse in RP ('received pronunciation'), the unofficial accent with which to speak Shakespeare. The film stands as a document of both the passing of the old style of acting and Olivier's box office appeal. The young Maggie Smith is a beautiful but sophisticated Desdemona, and the young Derek Jacobi is an eager Cassio. But there is no doubt that this is Olivier's film, although he was not as involved as in his other Shakespeare projects. Olivier coveys the sense of futility that Othello suffers at the hands of Iago and his half-truths, a man who realises too late that he loved 'not wisely, but too well'. The majority of the film was shot on an indoor set, but even so, the performances engage the viewer with a sense of reality of the pain and confusion the leads endure. This may not be Olivier's best effort, but it is nonetheless an interpretation that will continue to be studied and enjoyed. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Othello: Laurence Olivier; Desdemona: Maggie Smith; Emilia: Joyce Redman; Iago: Frank Finlay; Cassio: Derek Jacobi; Roderigo: Robert Lang; Lodovico: Kenneth MacKintosh; Brabantio: Anthony Nicholls; Bianca: Sheila Reid; Senate Officers: Malcolm Terrace, David Hargreaves; Gratiano: Michael Turner; Duke of Venice: Harry Lomax; Senator: Kenneth Marsh; Sailor Tom Kempinski; Messenger: Nicholas Edmett; Montano: Edward Hardwicke; Cypriot Officers: William Hobbs, Trevor Martin, Christopher Timothy; Clown: Roy Holder.

Director: Stuart Barge, John Dexter (uncredited); Writer: William Shakespeare; Producers: John Brabourne, Anthony Havelock-Allan; Production Company: BHE Films.

Black and white. Runtime: 165 mins.

Richard III (1954)

As Olivier film treatments of Shakespeare go, this one is average, but even so, it has developed into a legend. The cause of this is the affectation of Olivier's voice in a whiny, staccato pitch that after the first five minutes of the film wears on the ear. The voice overshadows Olivier's deeply moody, truly evil depiction of the notorious king. Surrounded as he had been in the 1940s by the elite of the British acting establishment, Olivier pulls out all the stops, especially in the 'wooing' scene with the newcomer Claire Bloom. In the space of about 100 lines, Richard must convince the Lady Anne, as she is on her way to bury her husband, that he killed the man because of his love for her, that he will die if she does not marry him, and even offers her the knife with which to slay him. It is a most unusual marriage proposal and even more unusual acceptance, causing Richard himself to wonder 'Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?' Some accounts say that this was Olivier's favourite role, but as Richard's shadow falls on the wall, it falls over the film as well, making excellent supporting performances brighter by contrast. Of particular note is the smothering of the Princes in the Tower by Tyrell. After these images, many viewers will be glad that Richard is slaughtered horribly on the battlefield. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Edward Plantagenet, King Edward IV: Cedric Hardwicke; Archbishop of Canterbury: Nicholas Hannen; Richard III: Laurence Olivier; Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham: Ralph Richardson; George, Duke of Clarence: John Gielgud; Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Elizabeth: Mary Kerridge; Jane Shore: Pamela Brown; Page to Richard: Stewart Allen; Lady Anne Neville: Claire Bloom; Priests: Russell Thorndike; Monks: Wally Bascoe, Norman Fisher; Brackenbury: Andrew Cruickshank; Antony Woodville, Earl Rivers: Clive Morton; Scrivener: Terence Greenridge; Sir William Catesby: Norman Wooland; Thomas, Lord Hastings: Laurence Naismith; Dighton: Michael Gough; Forrest: Michael Ripper; Duchess of York: Helen Hayes; Richard, young Duke of York: Andy Shine; Abbot: Roy Russell; Lord Mayor of London: George Woodbridge; Sir Richard Ratcliffe: Esmond Knight; Lord Lovell: John Laurie; Messenger to Hastings: Peter Williams; Ostler: Timothy Bateson; Scrubwoman: Ann Wilton; Beadle: Bill Shine; Clergymen: Derek Prentice, Derring Wells; George Stanley: Richard Bennett; Tyrell: Patrick Troughton; Messengers to Richard: Brian Nissen, Lane Meddick, Robert Bishop; John Howard, Duke of Norfolk: John Phillips; Henry Tudor: Stanley Baker.

Director: Laurence Olivier; Writers: William Shakespeare, Alan Dent (uncredited), Laurence Olivier (uncredited); Producer: Laurence Olivier; Production Company: London Film Productions.

Colour. Runtime: 161 mins.

The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952)

Three years following his version of Macbeth, Orson Welles tackled one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies. This interpretation is classic Welles, with long dark shadows, deep voice-overs, interesting camera angles that offer a view into the characters' minds. This Othello is basically insecure and definitely an outsider in the world of Venice, but becomes even more so when he and Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier) arrive in Cyprus. In contrast to Welles' blackface make-up, Cloutier's brightly lit white face is ablaze with smouldering innocence. The audience, while it may feel deep sympathy for Othello, feels equal rancour toward Michael McLiammeir's Iago, who bends and twists the truth with enviable skill. As with of Macbeth, however, Welles' propensity for using darkness to represent oppression and doubt is itself oppressive. Even before they set sail, the audience is aware that this couple will find more trouble than they can handle just from the way they are photographed. Although the story is a tragedy, Shakespeare built scenes into the play that are intended to relieve some of the pressure. By not allowing these scenes, Welles creates a world from which no one, not even the audience, can escape. Nonetheless, as part of the Wellesian canon, the film is worth a look. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Othello: Orson Welles; Iago: Michael McLiammeir; Roderigo; Robert Coote; Desdemona: Suzanne Cloutier; Brabantio: Hilton Edwards; Lodovico: Nicholas Bruce; Cassio: Michael Lawrence; Emilia: Fay Compton; Bianca: Doris Dowling; uncredited: Page Boy: Abdullah Ben Mohamet; Senator: Joseph Cotton; Montano: Jean Davis; Page: Joan Fontaine.

Director: Orson Welles (uncredited); Writers: William Shakespeare, Jean Sacha (uncredited, Orson Welles (uncredited); Producers: Walter Bedone (uncredited), Patrice Dali (uncredited), Julier Derode, Rocco Facchini (uncredited), Giorgio Papi (uncredited), Orson Welles (uncredited); Production Company: Mercury Productions.

Black and white. Runtime: 90 mins.

Othello (1995)

Thirty years after Laurence Olivier played the Moor in blackface, one of the leading African-American actors, Laurence Fishburne, assumed the role. For perhaps the first time, Shakespeare's play was treated with a realism toward the racial issues that the play raises. And what better villain to have to torture Othello than Kenneth Branagh as Iago. It should have worked very well, but director Oliver Parker spends an inordinate amount of time with full close-ups of Iago and voice-overs that, after while, begin to be tedious and boring. The action between Othello and Desdemona (Irene Jacob) sometimes has an orchestrated feel, and there are moments when it is difficult to care about what happens to these people during their relationship games. The editing of text has been done so that the focus of attention is on Iago, and in effect, this unbalances the play and the film. Fishburne does his best to be passionate and caring, but it is Branagh who is on screen most of the time. It may have been better to call the film 'Iago'. In spite of these pitfalls, it must be said that this film saw the defeat of the 'received pronunciation' that had marked Olivier's and some of Branagh's films, and demonstrated once and for all that black actors can play Shakespeare. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Othello: Laurence Fishburne; Desdemona: Irene Jacob; Iago: Kenneth Branagh; Cassio: Nathaniel Parker; Roderigo: Michael Maloney; Emilia: Anna Patrick; Montano: Nicholas Farrell; Bianca: Indra Ove; Lodovico: Michael Sheen; Gratiano: Andre Oumansky; Senators: Philip Locke, John Savident; Duke of Venice: Gabriele Ferzetti.

Director: Oliver Parker; Writers: William Shakespeare, Oliver Parker; Producers: David Barron, Jonathan Olsberg, Luc Roeg; Production Companies: Castle Rock Entertainment, Columbia Picture Corporation, Dakota Imminent Films Production.

Colour. Runtime: 123 mins.

Love's Labour's Lost (2000)

Using his previous success formula of an international cast, Kenneth Branagh filmed a project that he had wanted to do for a very long time: a 1930s treatment of Love's Labour's Lost. Unfortunately, in the age of MTV and VH1, this film is an abysmal failure that can be attributed to several factors. Because of budget limitations, the setting for the film was an indoor set which lack any sense of reality. This may have been Branagh's intent, but to a modern audience is visually unappealing. In addition, Love's Labour's Lost, while a favourite of Branagh's, is a relatively unknown play. As usual, Branagh works long and hard to make the text clear, but the songs he chose for his characters to sing and dance to do not generate from the text, and therefore, seem to be spliced in for no valid reason. Although Adrian Lester and Nathan Lane shine in their roles as Dumaine and Costard, it is at the expense of their fellow actors. It may have been a good idea to give this particular play the 1930s treatment, but it would have been a better idea to cast more song and dance performers like Lester and Lane in the roles. Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) is annoying at best. Branagh cannot dance or sing and looks to be too old for the role of Berowne, the young lover who reluctantly joins the King in giving up women for study. As the pact dissolves on the arrival of the Princess into a courting frenzy, there are some funny moments, but these are not sufficient to carry the film. These dancers are not Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and no matter how they try, they cannot come close. At the end of the play, there is the pageant of the Nine Worthies, and the happy ending is left in question. Here, the entertainment is interrupted by a modern dance sequence that is very out-of-place. And it doesn't end the film. The men go off to meet the challenges set to them by the women, the audience sees those challenges and their completion, and the couples are re-united, presumably to live happily ever after. Whereas the play leaves it to the audience to ponder what will happen, Branagh leaves no room for doubt, and in this, he does the audience a disservice. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Berowne: Kenneth Branagh; The King: Alessandro Nivola; The Princess: Alicia Silverstone; Rosaline: Natascha McElhone; Longaville: Matthew Lillard; Dumaine: Adrian Lester; Don Armado: Timothy Spall; Costard: Nathan Lane; Jacquenetta: Stefania Rocca; Boyet: Richard Clifford; Katherine: Emily Mortimer; Maria: Carmen Ejogo; Moth: Tony O'Donnell; Holofernia: Geraldine McEwan; Nathaniel: Richard Briers; Dull: Jimmy Yuill; Mercade: Daniel Hill; Gaston: Alfred Bell; Isabelle: Daisy Gough; Eugene: Graham Hubbard; Jaques: Paul Moody; Beatrice: Yvonne Reilly; Hippolyte: Iain Stuart Robertson; Celimen: Emma Scott; Sophie: Amy Tez; Dancers: Nikki Abraham, Colin Barrett, Jonathan Blazer, Catherine Dugdale, Michele Du Verney, Richard Joseph, Trudi Swift; Bryn Walters.

Director: Kenneth Branagh; Writers; Kenneth Branagh, William Shakespeare; Producers: David Barron, Kenneth Branagh, Andrea Calderwood, Guy East, Alexis Lloyd, Rick Schwartz, Nigel Sinclair, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein; Production Companies: Arts Council of England, Pathè Pictures, Shakespeare Film Company Intermedia Films, Le Studio Canal+ (FR), Miramax Films.

Colour. Runtime: 93 mins.

William Shakespeare Shakespeare Portraits

Color Illustration of the Stratford Bust

Black and White Sketch of the Stratford Bust

Black and White Side View of the Bust

Chandos Portrait

Another of the Chandos Portrait

The Droeshout Portrait (Title Page First Folio)

Color of the Droeshout Shakespeare

Droeshout Portrait

Marshall Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Grave

shakgrav.gif

Picture of the slabstone over Shakespeare's tomb, which reads:

Good Friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

What Did Shakespeare Look Like?

Among the many mysteries that surround Shakespeare and his life is the question of his physical appearance. No evidence exists today that his portrait was ever painted while he was alive; likewise, there is no known written description of him. Unless new material is discovered, we will never know for certain what he looked like.

Only two likenesses of Shakespeare have any claim to authenticity. Both, however, are problematic. The first image made of Shakespeare was erected in the Stratford Parish Church sometime between his death in 1616 and the printing of the First Folio in 1623. This was the memorial bust. We can put the date of the bust in this range because in the First Folio (1623) mention is made of the bust in a poem by Leonard Digges, which reads in part:

...that stone is rent,
And Time dissolves thy Stratford Monument,
Here we alive shall view thee soon. This book,
When brass and marble fade, shall make thee look
Fresh to all ages.

The bust would logically have the best claim to authenticity. However, it is highly doubtful that it looks anything like it did when first erected. We know nothing about its history, such as who commissioned it. More than once, the bust has been repaired or refurbished, starting in 1749 when a sum of money was raised at Stratford in order to "re-beautify" the monument. It is believed that the local craftsman in charge of the project took serious liberties and made major changes. It has been whitewashed and repainted many times, and there are accounts of it being taken down for the making of casts, sometimes incurring damage. Some have concluded that as a possible likeness of Shakespeare it is worthless. And virtually all are in agreement that the present-day bust is unflattering. A middle aged, stout Shakespeare looks out blankly. Eminent Shakespearean critic John Dover Wilson described it as a "self-satisfied pork butcher."

The best evidence that the present-day bust is not similar to the original is a drawing made in 1653 by William Dugdale, a Warwickshire antiquarian. Dugdale sketched the bust in his Antiquities of Warwickshire. When the sketch is placed next to the present-day bust, the differences are vast. The facial structures and expressions are totally unalike, and in the present-day bust Shakespeare holds a pen on a cushion, whereas in the sketch he clutches a sack.

The second image that has claim to authenticity is known as the Martin Droeshout portrait. The copper-engraved portrait appeared on the title-page of the First Folio in 1623, with the inscription "Martin Droeshout: sculpsit. London." On the opposite page, Ben Jonson's verses identify the portrait as Shakespeare. Droeshout was only 15 years old when Shakespeare died, making it unlikely that he ever saw him in real-life. Biographers have been united in their opinion of the engraving. "Ludicrous" and "Monstrous" are some terms that have been consistently applied. The author of Shakespeare's Lives, Sam Schoenbaum, wrote the following:

... a huge head, placed against a starched ruff, surmounts an absurdly small tunic with oversized shoulder-wings... Light comes from several directions simultaneously: it falls on the bulbous protuberance of forehead -- that 'horrible hydrocephalous development', as it has been called -- creates and odd crescent under the right eye...

The publishers of the First Folio apparently recognized the deficiencies of the portrait, and altered it twice while it went through press. They added a shadow and darkened it overall. Some critics have insisted that the portrait is actually an actor's mask, pointing to the dark line extending down from the earlobe as evidence. One critic has even suggested that the right arm is actually the back of a left arm, thus asserting the portrait has two left arms.

The suspicions aroused by the two portraits are further intensified by another image of Shakespeare that appeared in a pirated edition of his poems published in 1640, engraved by a William Marshall. The image is clearly based on the Droeshout, but it is reversed and most believe it to be a parody. Given the lines that appear below the image, which seem to poke fun at Ben Jonson's poem that appeared in the First Folio, it seems probably that some kind of flippancy is at hand. The lines below the picture read in part:

This Shadowe is renowned Shakespear's? Soule of th'age The applause? delight? the wonder of the the Stage.

The lines seem to instruct us that there is more here than meets the eye. Further compounding the mystery is the publisher's name: John Benson, which is an inversion of Ben Johnson.

Ultimately, we are left with two possibilities of Shakespeare's appearance, both completely different, which practically dooms the search from the start. It is possible that a new portrait, engraving, or document will someday be uncovered behind an old wall, but until then, the debate remains a essential component of the Shakespeare lore.

William Shakespeare Bibliography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Ackroyd, Peter. Shakespeare: The Biography. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2005. An examination of the life and works of Shakespeare, including his poetry.

Bate, Jonathan. Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare. New York: Random House, 2009. A biography of Shakespeare that attempts to look at his life and writings as they relate to the times in which he lived.

Bloom, Harold, ed. The Sonnets. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2008. A collection of essays that examine Shakespeare’s sonnets, perhaps his best poetry.

Cheney, Patrick. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. A collection of essays offering literary, historical, and cultural information on Shakespeare’s poetry. Bibliographies and suggestions for further reading make this an invaluable source for those interested in Shakespeare.

De Grazia, Margreta, and Stanley Wells, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. This work provides an extensive guide to Shakespeare’s life and works.

Dobson, Michael, and Stanley Wells, eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. An encyclopedic treatment of the life and works of Shakespeare.

Hart, Jonathan. Shakespeare: Poetry, Culture, and History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Hart looks at the poetry of Shakespeare and examines how culture and history influenced it and were influenced by it.

Heylin, Clinton. So Long as Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2009. Heylin examines the history of the sonnets’ publication and researches the possibility that Shakespeare never intended them to be published.

Hope, Warren, and Kim Holston. The Shakespeare Controversy: An Analysis of the Authorship Theories. 2d ed. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009. The authors examines the various authorship controversies and theories surrounding Shakespeare’s work. Although much of the discussion involves plays, it sheds light on the author himself.

Matz, Robert. The World of Shakespeare’s Sonnets: An Introduction. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008. Matz examines the sonnets in terms of the customs and beliefs that shaped them and with reference to Shakespeare’s world.

William Shakespeare Bibliography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ackroyd, Peter. Shakespeare: The Biography. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2005.

Bate, Jonathan. The Genius of Shakespeare. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Explores the extraordinary staying-power of Shakespeare’s work. Bate opens by taking up questions of authorship, asking, for example, Who was Shakespeare, based on the little documentary evidence we have? Which works really are attributable to him? How extensive was the influence of Christopher Marlowe? Bate goes on to trace Shakespeare’s canonization and near-deification, examining not only the uniqueness of his status among English-speaking readers but also his effect on literate cultures across the globe.

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.

Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare: The Tragedies. New York: Palgrave, 2001. A study of the tragedies in chronological order.

Cheney, Patrick. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. Cambridge University Press, 2007. A collection of essays offering literary, historical, and cultural information on Shakespeare’s poetry. Bibliographies and suggestions for further reading make this an invaluable source for those interest in Shakespeare.

Danson, Lawrence. Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Danson’s scholarly study examines Shakespeare’s philosophy and how it was demonstrated in his dramas. Bibliography and index.

De Grazia, Margreta, and Stanley Wells, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. This work provides an extensive guide to Shakespeare’s life and works.

Dobson, Michael, and Stanley Wells, eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2001. An encyclopedic treatment of the life and works of Shakespeare.

Donno, Elizabeth Story. “The Epyllion.” In English Poetry and Prose, 1540-1674, edited by Christopher Ricks. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1987. This brief introductory survey provides an excellent approach to Shakespeare’s mythological poems, placing them securely in their contemporary literary context. Includes basic documentary notes and a complete bibliography of all relevant materials. Fully indexed.

Draper, Ronald P. Shakespeare, the Comedies. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Draper provides an analysis of the playwright’s comedies. Bibliography and index.

Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His Life. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001. Duncan-Jones portrays Shakespeare as a man influenced by the political, social, and literary climate in which he found himself. She also examines speculative stories such as his love for a Dark Lady. Includes bibliography and index.

Holderness, Graham. Shakespeare: The Histories. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Holderness examines the historical plays of Shakespeare and the historical events on which they were based. Bibliography and index.

Honan, Park. Shakespeare: A Life. 1999. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Honan’s life of Shakespeare shuns the mythology that has grown up around the playwright and places him in the context of his age.

Kasten, David Scott. A Companion to Shakespeare. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. Offers an innovative and comprehensive picture of the theatrical, literary, intellectual and social worlds in which Shakespeare wrote and in which his plays were produced. Each individual essay stands as an authoritative account of the state of knowledge in its field, and in their totality the essays provide a compelling portrait of the historical conditions, both imaginative and institutional, that enabled Shakespeare’s great art.

Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare’s Language. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000. Between 1594 and 1608, Kermode argues, the language of Shakespeare’s plays was transformed, acquiring a new complexity that arose out of the playwright’s increasingly successful attempts to represent dramatically the excitement and confusion of thought under stress.

McConnell, Louise. Dictionary of Shakespeare. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000. A basic reference companion.

McLeish, Kenneth, and Stephen Unwin. A Pocket Guide to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: Faber and Faber, 1998. This concise guide summarizes the plots and characters of Shakespeare’s plays, providing an easy reference.

Marsh, Nicholas. Shakespeare, the Tragedies. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Marsh analyzes the tragedies of Shakespeare, providing study guides. Bibliography and index.

Proudfoot, Richard. Shakespeare: Text, Stage, and Canon. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001. A study of Shakespeare’s plays, with emphasis on their stage history and how they were produced. Bibliography and index.

Richards, Jennifer, and James Knowles, eds. Shakespeare’s Late Plays: New Readings. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. A collection of essays focusing on the playwright’s later plays, including The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Bibliography and index.

Frye, Northrop. Northrop Frye on Shakespeare. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.

Southworth, John. Shakespeare, the Player: A Life in the Theatre. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2000. A biography that focuses on the dramatist as a member of the theater, writing for the theater in collaboration with the theater company.

Thomson, Peter. Shakespeare’s Professional Career. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Thomson examines the theatrical world of Elizabethan England to illuminate Shakespeare’s life and writings.

Vendler, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997.

Vickers, Brian. Appropriating Shakespeare: Contemporary Critical Quarrels. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

Wells, Stanley. Shakespeare: A Life in Drama. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995. A critical introduction to Shakespeare’s life and work.

Wilson, Ian. Shakespeare: The Evidence: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Man and His Work. London: Headline, 1993. Wilson draws on documents discovered during the excavation of the site of the Globe Theatre to delve into the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare’s life, including authorship of his plays, his sexuality, his religion, and the curse he set on his own grave.