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From the silent era to the Netflix age, Shakespeare has been a steady presence in films. Adapting and appropriating Shakespeare’s plays for cinema helped validate the medium in the early twentieth century and has shaped the direction of the art-form, spawning some classic films in the process. In turn, cinema has helped keep Shakespeare’s plays vital, introducing them to new audiences and illuminating new meanings in these 400+ year old works.

This course guides students through the history of Shakespeare on film, showing how the history of screen Shakespeare intersects and in some instances impacts the history of film itself. It also explores how Shakespeare films have mirrored or critiqued the world offscreen, reflecting or challenging the political, cultural and gender norms of different eras. Specific films and filmmakers and their reinvention of Shakespeare’s work will be discussed in detail. Finally, the course considers the place of Shakespeare on film today in an increasingly post-film entertainment culture.

Course outline

  • Topic 1: Introducing Shakespeare on film
  • Topic 2: Shakespeare on screen 1916-1955
  • Topic 3: Shakespeare on screen 1956-1989
  • Topic 4: Shakespeare on screen 1990-2020
  • Topic 5: Reinventing Shakespeare: Modernisations and offshoots
  • Topic 6: Reinventing Shakespeare: Foreign language Shakespeare
  • Topic 7: Shakespeare and auteur theory: Filmmaker case studies
  • Topic 8: Shakespeare on film: What is lost and what is gained?

Learning outcomes

At the completion of this course you should

  • Know about the history of Shakespeare on film
  • Understand the relationship between film history and Shakespeare on screen
  • Understand how cinema has extended the afterlife and exploration of Shakespeare’s play texts
  • Understand how Shakespeare’s plays have been used on screen for political purposes
  • Recognise how Shakespeare has helped shape the careers of key filmmakers

Who should enrol?

People interested in Shakespeare, in film history, and/or the combination of these things.