In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Shakespeare on Film

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Silent Shakespeare
  • Theoretical Perspectives
  • Production and Reception
  • Adaptation
  • Published Scripts

Cinema and Media Studies Shakespeare on Film
Russell Jackson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0255


In the 1980s the study of cinema adaptations of Shakespeare was transformed by the advent of domestic video recording and the increased availability of productions on videotape. Students, teachers, and scholars who had previously relied on public showings or the hire of 16mm prints could now access films in the study or at home as well as in libraries and, crucially, could also view them repeatedly and shot-by-shot without specialized equipment. The volume of publication of academic monographs, journal articles, critical anthologies, and study aids has kept pace with the increasing availability of older films, as well as new productions. During the ensuing decades, producers experienced periodic surges in confidence that Shakespeare would sell. Increasingly, critics have paid attention to productions from outside the Anglophone mainstream, as well as revisiting earlier films from Hollywood and the United Kingdom. Such silent versions as survive—a fraction of the estimated output between 1899 and 1929—have also received attention, while the growth of studies in popular culture and adaptation as disciplines in their own right has been reflected in work on a wide range of films that do not undertake to deliver a “faithful” version of the play that is their source. Writing on filmed Shakespeare has also been influenced by closer alliances since the 1960s between English, drama, and film studies, and by the proliferation of critical theories in all three disciplines. Published scripts and additional material included on DVDs have augmented the available primary sources for research.

General Overviews

The influential studies Jorgens 1977 and Davies 1988 have been followed by several surveys of the field. Not all aim for the scope or chronological organization of Rothwell 2004, and most adopt a topic-by topic approach: Buhler 2002, Anderegg 2004, and Jackson 2014 offer variations on this, while at the same time keeping the reader aware of the phases identified in the history of filmed Shakespeare, as does Crowl 1992 in chapters on film productions. Davies 1988, Hatchuel 2004, and others preface their accounts with discussion of the practice and principles of adaptation. All the titles in this category can serve as introductory texts for study at different levels.

  • Anderegg, Michael. Cinematic Shakespeare. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.

    Films are discussed in a variety of contexts, so that (for example) chapter 4, “In and Out of Hollywood,” includes productions by Welles as well those from the major studios.

  • Buchanan, Judith. Shakespeare on Film. Harlow, UK: Longman Pearson, 2005.

    Insightful studies of a series of films from 1899 to the early 2000s. Unusual in its inclusion of work from the silent era. (See also Buchanan 2009, cited under Silent Shakespeare.)

  • Buchman, Lorne M. Still in Movement: Shakespeare on Screen. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

    Sophisticated analyses of major films in terms of theatrical and cinematic articulations of space and time.

  • Buhler, Stephen M. Shakespeare in the Cinema: Ocular Proof. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

    Shakespeare films are placed “amidst the cultural practices, economic pressures, career trajectories and audience expectations that shaped their production and reception” (p. 8) in a wide-ranging, critically responsive study. An impressive overall view as well as a source of insights into specific films.

  • Burnett, Mark Thornton. Shakespeare and World Cinema. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511760211

    The first comprehensive overview: excellent critical analysis combined with invaluable contextual information.

  • Crowl, Samuel. Shakespeare Observed: Studies in Performance on Stage and Screen. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1992.

    Not strictly speaking an “overview” in coverage, but the five essays on films—effectively half the book—are infused with a sense of the development of the Shakespeare film as a distinct subgenre. Stimulating and detailed studies of works in terms of genre (“Babes in the Woods: Shakespearean Comedy on Film”) and directors (Welles, Hall, Branagh).

  • Crowl, Samuel. Shakespeare at the Cineplex: The Kenneth Branagh Era. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2003.

    Lively and perceptive discussions of films made after the success of Branagh’s Henry V (1989) bolstered confidence in Shakespearean subjects among commercial producers.

  • Davies, Anthony. Filming Shakespeare’s Plays: The Adaptations of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Peter Brook and Akira Kurosawa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511553097

    Critical studies of the work of the named directors, with a general introduction on the principles of adaptation.

  • Hatchuel, Sarah. Shakespeare, from Stage to Screen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511483615

    Examines the ways in which film’s aesthetic regimes and techniques have adopted and modified the dramaturgical strategies of the plays: grounded in close observation and analysis of specific productions. Useful introductory text.

  • Jackson, Russell. Shakespeare and the English-Speaking Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    Organized by topics (“Places,” “People,” etc.) rather than by directors, plays, or genres. Emphasis is on the analysis of films rather than dialogue with other commentators.

  • Jorgens, Jack. Shakespeare on Film. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1977.

    A foundational academic study in the field. The introductory chapter, “Realizing Shakespeare on Film,” is followed by subtle and persuasive readings of major sound films from 1935 (The Reinhardt/Dieterle Dream) to 1971 (Brook’s and Kozinstev’s versions of King Lear).

  • Rothwell, Kenneth. A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    Critically acute and sympathetic account of films from the silent era to the millennium, with a valuable filmography. A primary text for undergraduate and graduate courses.

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