The traditional view of Shakespeare is that he was a natural genius who had no need of art or reading. That tradition grew from origins which should make us suspect it. Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson famously declared that Shakespeare had ‘small Latin and less Greek’.
The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were famously the age of “Bardolatry,” Shakespeare-worship that permeated artistic, social, civic, and political life. As Victorian scientific advances including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in On the Origin of Species (1859), destabilised Christianity as ultimate arbiter of truth, rhetoricians invoked Shakespeare’s plots and characters to support their arguments.
Young Cressingham, one of the witty contrivers of Thomas Middleton’s and John Webster’s comedy Anything for a Quiet Life (1621), faces a financial problem. His father is wasting his inheritance, and his new stepmother – a misogynistic caricature of the wayward, wicked woman – has decided to seize the family’s wealth into her own hands, disinheriting her husband’s children.
Describing her role as the ambitious political wife Claire Underwood in the American TV series House of Cards, Robin Wright recognized she is “Lady Macbeth to [Francis] Underwood’s Macbeth.” At one point in the second series, Claire emboldens her wavering husband: “Trying’s not enough, Francis. I’ve done what I had to do. Now you do what you have to do.”
Since the advent of film and television production, Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted, re-imagined, and performed on screen hundreds of times. Although many early Shakespeare adaptations remained faithful to his work, over time writers and directors selected only certain characters, plot lines, conflicts, or themes into their films.
This year, 2015, has been quite a year for Cuba. Starting in January with President Obama’s announcement that the United States and Cuba will re-establish diplomatic and economic relations, followed by Pope Francis’s visit to the island earlier this month, Cuba has been under the global spotlight.
In anticipation of Shakespeare celebrations next year, we asked Oxford University Press and Oxford University staff members to choose their favourite Shakespeare adaptation. From classic to contemporary, the obscure to the infamous, we’ve collected a whole range of faithful and quirky translations from play text to film. Did your favourite film or television programme make the list?
George Bernard Shaw once remarked on William Shakespeare’s “gift of telling a story (provided some one else told it to him first).” Shakespeare knew the works of many great writers, such as Raphael Holinshed, Ludovico Ariosto, and Geoffrey Chaucer. How did these men, and many others, influence Shakespeare and his work?
The young woman who inspired Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias and Verdi’s Violetta in La traviata conceived at least once in the course of her 23 years. At the time she was in her late teens. During the five years that followed the birth of her baby, between the ages of 17 and 22, she prospered as the leading courtesan of the most glamorous city in Europe. The word ‘courtesan’ is a euphemism for an upper class prostitute, a paid woman who doubled as a trophy exhibit at the theatre and opera.
Some people sign their books but never read them. Others devour books without bothering to inscribe their names. Shakespeare falls in the latter category. In fact we don’t truly know whether he owned books at all; just six Shakespearean signatures are considered authentic, and they appear exclusively in legal documents.
What would Macbeth be without Lady Macbeth? Or Romeo and Juliet with only Romeo? Yet there’s an enormous disparity between female and male representation in Shakespeare’s play. Few, great female characters deliver as many lines or impressive speeches as their male counterparts. While this may not be surprising considering 16th century society, literature, and theater, data can reveal a wider disparity than previously thought.
Did you know that out of a total of 981 characters from Shakespeare’s plays, only around 150 characters are women? There is an ongoing debate concerning what truly qualifies a character as female, but this ratio of male to female characters is nevertheless astounding.
From the birth of film, Shakespeare’s plays have been a constant source of inspiration for many screenwriters, directors, and producers. As a result, hundreds of film and television adaptations have been made, each featuring either a Shakespearean plot, theme, character, or all three.
Because nothing noteworthy occurred anywhere in the world through the month of August and the first half of September, the local news in New York City turned its attentions to a few women who have apparently been bothering people in the otherwise calm, decent section of Manhattan known as Times Square.
It’s fun to read Shakespearean plays, but watching our most beloved scenes on stage or screen makes the characters and the plots even more engaging. Reading the scene in which Juliet wakes up to find her Romeo dead is indeed tragic, but watching Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio lock eyes right before he dies is heart-wrenching. Gazing, unable to reach through the screen and offer help, as Ralph Fiennes is outnumbered and murdered in his directorial debut, Coriolanus, is unparalleled.
William Shakespeare was undoubtedly a literary mastermind, yet several allusions and quotations in his works suggest that he gathered ideas from other texts. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, for example, was alluded to more than any other classical text, and the Bishop’s and Geneva Bibles were quoted numerous times in his works. Shakespeare’s reliance on source material from external literature was a common practice of the time period.