Though a Queen ruled England, gender equality certainly wasn’t found in Elizabethan society. Everything from dress to employment followed strict gender roles, and yet there was a certain amount of room for play. There are several cases of (in)famous women who dressed as men and crossed the bounds of “acceptable behavior.”
Not so long ago, we ‘went to the pictures’ (or ‘the movies’) and now they tend to come to us. For many people, visiting a cinema to see films is no longer their principal means of access to the work of film-makers. But however we see them, it’s the seeing as much as the hearing of Shakespeare in this medium that counts. Or rather, it’s the interplay between the two.
Theatergoers have been dazzled by the new Broadway hit Hamilton, and not just by its titular lead: the Schuyler women often steal the show. While Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton provides heart and pathos, her sister Angelica Schuyler Church is sassy, witty, and flirtatious.
The start of a film version of a Shakespeare play offers a pretty good clue to the nature of the adaptation. So how, for instance, does Richard II begin? In one sense it begins like this…
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.