That was Shakespeare?

The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare
– Virginia Woolf

While in terms of human civilisation Woolf may be correct, but as the 400th anniversary of his death approaches it’s clear that Shakespeare is not going away anytime soon. The simplest search proves that Shakespeare is ingrained heavily in today’s culture, not only his original works, but in adaptations and reimaginings, and his influence is undeniably impressive.

There are grand, traditional movies by great directors that bring Shakespeare’s original words to the screen, and there are remakes that play with dialogue or characters but still tell the same story. These modern adaptations can be so clever that you don’t even realise they are Shakespeare adaptations, or they can bring together the new and the old into something fantastic and memorable.

Movies are not the only thing to get the Shakespeare treatment, literature is just as filled with people retelling the works of Shakespeare in new and creative ways. From graphic novels to feminist retellings there are some wonderfully creative retellings out there.

 There really are too many to go into depth about but I’ve linked them to the Wiki page, IMDB page, or other sources like an ultimate movie list from No Sweat Shakespeare. Since there are so many to pick from so I’ve only chosen a select few, some of the greats and some of the sneaky adaptations that may have slipped past you, and some that I myself only just discovered were Shakespeare in disguise.


Laurence Olivier in Henry V

Laurence Olivier in Henry V


Henry V (1944) dir. Laurence Olivier IMDB

Hamlet (1948) dir. Laurence Olivier IMDB

Othello (1952) dir. Orson Welles IMDB

Julius Caesar (1953) dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz IMDB

Taming of the Shrew (1967) dir. Franco Zeffirelli IMDB

Romeo and Juliet (1968) dir. Franco Zeffirelli IMDB

Macbeth (1971) dir. Roman Polanski IMDB

Henry V (1989) dir. Kenneth Branagh IMDB

Hamlet (1990) dir. Franco Zeffirelli IMDB

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) dir. Kenneth Branagh IMDB

Hamlet (1996) dir. Kenneth Branagh IMDB

Coriolanus (2011) dir. Ralph Fiennes IMDB

Much Ado About Nothing (2012) dir. Joss Whedon IMDB


The Boys from Syrcacuse (1940) IMDB dir. A. Edward Sutherland (The Comedy of Errors)

Kiss Me Kate (1953) IMDB dir. George Sidney (Taming of the Shrew)

Forbidden Planet (1956) IMDB dir. Fred M. Wilcox (The Tempest)

Throne of Blood (1957) IMDB dir. Akira Kurosawa (Macbeth)

West Side Story (1961)  IMDB dir. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (Romeo and Juliet)

Chimes at Midnight (1965) IMDB dir. Orson Welles (Multiple plays)

My Own Private Idaho (1991) IMDB dir. Gus Van Sant (Henry IV and Henry V)

The Lion King (1994) IMDB dir. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff (Hamlet)

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) IMDB dir. Baz Luhrmann

10 Things I Hate About You (1999) IMDB dir. Gil Junger (Taming of the Shrew)

Hamlet (2000) IMDB dir. Michael Almereyda

Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) IMDB dir. Kenneth Branagh

She’s the Man (2012) IMDB dir.  Andy Fickman (Twelfth Night)

Baz Luhrmann's Romeo+Juliet

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet


The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (The Winter’s Tale)

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (King Lear)

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (The Taming of the Shrew)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (Hamlet)

The Dead Father’s Club by Matt Haig (Hamlet)

A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchinson (Hamlet)

Exit Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston  (The Winter’s Tale)

Fool by Christopher Moore (King Lear)

Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer (The Tempest)

Warm Bodies by Issac Marion (Romeo and Juliet)

Graphic Novels

Requiem of the Rose King by Aya Kanno (Richard III)

Kill Shakespeare by Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, and Andy Belanger (Multiple plays)

Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly (Romeo and Juliet)


There are arguments for whether a traditional or remake is better to see first if you’re new to all things Shakespeare. I have found seeing an adaptation first can help you make sense of the story and get a handle on what’s happening, but on the other hand, if you see the traditional first you can pick up the clever references that have been included when you do see an adaptation. The other fun thing about adaptations is seeing one and not realising it was Shakespeare until later.

Hopefully this list has offered up some great suggestions to start or continue your Shakespeare experience and maybe even enlightened you about just how ingrained Shakespeare has become and how versatile he can be! If I’ve left off one that’s your absolute favourite, let me know in the comments.

Links and Bits

Book Riot | Shortlist

Flavorwire | Refinery29

The Ultimate Movie Adaptation List


Films About Shakespeare

We all know about the myriad of adaptations about Shakespeare’s plays, but there are a few adaptations and productions about the man himself. I’ve only looked at three here, but I’m sure there are more. A quick Google search brings up mainly his play adaptations, so if you know of any others, let me know, I’d love to watch them.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

MV5BMTc0ODI2NDk2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTIzNDQ4OQ@@._V1_UY268_CR1,0,182,268_AL_This one is the biggie. The classic Shakespeare film that won all the awards and everyone loved. The British-American romantic comedy-drama was released in 1998 and centres around the fictitious love affair between Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), with many characters based on real historical figures. Set in 1593 it shows Shakespeare writing his classic Romeo and Juliet and there are many references to his other works as well. It remains a popular movie with a 93% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, and at the time won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. Some big names starred in at as well including Judi Dench, Martin Clunes, and Geoffrey Rush. While not that historically accurate it is an interesting and enjoyable film, it was one of my earliest exposures to Shakespeare as a kid and I loved it.



Anonymous (2011)

MV5BMjAxOTA5MTMxOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDI4MzU0NQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Starring Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, this political thriller and historical drama looks at whether de Vere could be the real author of the Shakespeare plays. I am going to talk more about the authorship debate in a later post so I won’t go into it too much here, but it is a curious claim people have made. De Vere is depicted as a literary prodigy and Elizabeth I’s occasional lover, and many of the events are highly dramatised. Where Shakespeare comes into play is that De Vere uses him as a frontman to have his plays and poems performed. For all the controversy and conspiracy theories, I actually liked this film. It was a compelling case but one deeply flawed and one that did not sway my opinion. So much of the argument is based on ignoring key facts, but despite that, it was interesting.



Bill (2015)

MV5BNjkxOTkzNDgwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDQxNTg4NzE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_As a lover of the TV series Horrible Histories I was excited to hear the principal performers from it were making a movie about Shakespeare. This adventure-comedy film is a fictitious version of a young Shakespeare’s search for fame and fortune and tries to explain what happened during Shakespeare’s lost years. When Queen Elizabeth I wants a play written Shakespeare sees his chance, and with an evil plot to foil as well there is plenty of excitement and humour on offer. The six lead actors play multiple roles, just like on Horrible Histories, and while unfortunately there are no musical numbers to enjoy, the laughter and cheekiness is prevalent. Mathew Baynton stars as Shakespeare, with Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rockard, and Ben Willbond alongside him.




While they’re not massive productions or movies, there have been other instances where Shakespeare has made it to the screen.

Doctor Who

From the classic series to the new era Shakespeare has been a reoccurring figure in many Doctor Who episodes. In 2007 he got an episode devoted entirely to him with The Shakespeare Code. The full list of Shakespeare in Doctor Who can be found here.

Waste of Shame (2005) – Mini Series

This 90 minute television drama focuses on Shakespeare and the composition of his sonnets. The story depicts moments of Shakespeare’s life with Anne and son Hamnet, as well as other life experiences he has that influences his sonnets. Rupert Graves plays Shakespeare with a supporting cast including Zoë Wanamaker, Tom Hiddleston, and Indira Varma.



William Shakespeare (1978) – Mini Series

This mini-series, also known as Life of Shakespeare and William Shakespeare: his Life & Times, is a historical drama. Broadcast in six parts it is a dramatisation of Shakespeare’s life and each episode was intended to be based around the creation of one of his plays with real life experiences influenced the writing. Shakespeare is played by Tim Curry with Ian McShane as Christopher Marlowe and Paul Freeman as Richard Burbage.


In the Spotlight: Hamlet

In the Spotlight

“Sorry,” Hamlet said, rubbing his temples.
“I don’t know what came over me. 
All of a sudden
I had this overwhelming desire to talk for a very long time without actually doing anything.”
― Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten

 “Hamlet is a terrific play, but there are way too many quotations in it.”
– Hugh Leonard

Any discussion about Shakespeare can’t be complete without talking about what history says is Shakespeare’s greatest play. The full title of the play is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and is, as the title suggests, one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Date Written: Between 1600 and 1603

First performed: Solid evidence of early performances is scarce. It was most likely to have been first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men at the Globe Theatre. There was an early documented performance by the crew of the ship red Dragon in 1607.

Setting: Elsinore, Denmark


Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, mourns his father’s passing as well as his mother’s sudden remarriage to his uncle, Claudius. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears before him to tell him he was murdered by Claudius and demands Hamlet avenge him. In an effort to trick his uncle into confession, Hamlet puts on a play to make his uncle confess. Hamlet is deemed mad and it is unclear whether it’s an act or whether it becomes real. Hamlet kills the eavesdropping Polonius and Claudius, becoming paranoid sends Hamlet to England. Polonius’ son vows revenge on Hamlet, and his daughter kills herself in grief over Hamlet’s actions. When Hamlet returns to Denmark there is a great duel resulting in the death of many characters.

Themes:  Madness, revenge, loyalty, religion


Hamlet – Son of the late king and nephew of the present king

Claudius – King of Denmark and Hamlet’s uncle

Gertrude – Queen of Denmark and mother to Hamlet

Polonius – Chief counsellor to the king

Ophelia – Daughter to Polonius

Horatio – True friend to Hamlet

Laertes – Son to Polonius

Voltimand and Cornelius – Courtiers

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – Courtiers, friends to Hamlet

Osric – a Courtier

Marcellus and Bernardo – Officers

Francisco – a Soldier

Reynaldo – Servant to Polonius

Ghost of Hamlet’s Father

Fortinbras – Prince of Norway

 Famous quotes

“In my mind’s eye” (Act I, Scene II)

“This above all: to thine own self be true” (Act I, Scene III)

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Act I, Scene V)

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Act II, Scene II)

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t” (Act II, Scene II)

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Act III, Scene I)
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (Act III, Scene II)

“I must be cruel only to be kind; Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.” (Act II, Scene IV)
Fun Facts

1. Judging by the number of reprints, Hamlet appears to have been Shakespeare’s fourth most popular play during his lifetime—only Henry IV Part 1Richard III and Pericles eclipsed it.

2. Oxford editor George Hibbard argues that, since the contemporary literature contains many allusions and references to Hamlet, the play was surely performed with a frequency that the historical record misses.

3. Shakespeare’s longest play, with 4,042 lines, totalling 29,551 words—typically taking over four hours to perform.

4. Contains Shakespeare’s favourite device, a play within a play.

5. Hamlet is one of the most quoted works in the English language and is often included on lists of the world’s greatest literature.

6. Hamlet has the most lines of any of Shakespeare’s characters with 1530 lines.

7. Hamlet is the second most filmed story in the world, coming second only to Cinderella.

8. Hamlet was the most popular work during Shakespeare’s own time and has remained his most produced play to this day

9. Disney’s The Lion King is an adaptation of Hamlet

10. Hamlet is the most produced play in the world. It has been estimated that Hamlet is being performed somewhere every single minute of every single day

11. It is believed that Shakespeare played the ghost in Hamlet when it was first performed at the Globe.

12. The first actor to ever play Hamlet was Richard Burbage, the leading actor of Shakespeare’s troupe. It was almost certainly written with Burbage in mind to play Hamlet.

13. In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2009 production of Hamlet, David Tennant used a real skull in the gravedigger scene. The skull had been bequeathed to the theatre in 1982 by André Tchaikowsky after his death. Tchaikowsky wanted his skull used “in Theatrical Performance.”

14. Hamlet is one of two Shakespeare plays to be translated into Klingon (the other is Much Ado About Nothing).

15. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an absurdist tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard based on the two courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

16. Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film adaptation is notable as it includes every word of the play.

Links and Bits

Fun Facts source


British Library

William Shakespeare Info

Fun With Shakespeare

It’s not all plays and analysis here, there’s a whole heap of fun stuff about Shakespeare to enjoy. From stories to skits and songs there’s a range of things to enjoy and discover. I’ve compiled a list of things to get you started on the fun side of Shakespeare.

Fun Stuff

Shakespeare through infographs
How the Shakespeare Characters Are Connected
Shakespeare in Pop Culture
Shakespeare references in Disney movies
TV Shows and Movies based on Shakespeare
Further fun at No Sweat Shakespeare
Shakespeare Quiz
Insult by Shakeapeare
Shakespearean Insulter
Shakespeare Insults
17 Shakespearean Insults To Unleash In Everyday Life
Shakespeare for Kids
Shakespeare Fun Stuff
That’s not Shakespeare
The Ultimate Movie Adaptation List


Shakespeare’s Skull is Missing
Rare Shakespeare Edition Found
Shakespeare’s Handwriting to be Digitised


A Tiny Feast by Chris Adrian

Titania and Oberon, the Queen and King of the Fairies, live under a hill in a modern city park. To save their marriage, they take a mortal toddler and raise him, only to discover he has developed terminal leukaemia. The story is set in a fairy den and an oncology ward, and is a heartbreaking and very real story about love, death, and parenthood.

Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde

Granted this series isn’t solely about Shakespeare, but there are running themes, ongoing jokes and references, and the fourth book, Something Rotten, is so Shakespeare it’s incredibly clever and amusing. If you’ve read the books you may want to check out the many allusions to Shakespeare in the series, there are references to plays but also mentions about the author debate and Shakespeare clones.


This glorious website has multiple lists that explore Shakespeare retellings of every kind.

Rewriting Shakespeare (YA edition)
Popular Shakespeare Retellings
Retelling Shakespeare


Epitaph on Shakespeare by John Milton
Poems about Shakespeare


Horrible Histories Shakespeare Song
Horrible Histories Shakespeare Mastermind
Horrible Histories Shakespeare Doesn’t Like Fighting Song
Horrible Histories Quote Alert
QI The Immortal Bard
Changing interpretations of Hamlet

17 Additional Fun Facts About Shakespeare

welcome-shakespeare-quiz-and-activitiesIt’s time for my second installment of Shakespeare Fun Facts! These facts are sourced and adapted from No Sweat Shakespeare and The Telegraph.

1. There are more than 80 variations recorded for the spelling of Shakespeare’s name. In the few original surviving signatures, Shakespeare spelt his name Willm Shaksp, William Shakespe, Wm Shakspe, William Shakspere, Willm Shakspere, and William Shakspeare. There are no records of him ever having spelt it “William Shakespeare” but, additional fun fact, I’m sure I learnt that the Shakespeare spelling came about as a printing error. I have been trying to find the source but basically, it was something like when printing the letters ran together and make it look different, or it was something about how the printer laid out the letters.

2. Shakespeare has been credited with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language and popularising many more. Examples include: fashionable (Troilus and Cressida), sanctimonious (Measure for Measure), eyeball (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and lacklustre (As You Like It); not to mention expressions like foregone conclusion (Othello), in a pickle (The Tempest), wild goose chase (Romeo and Juliet), and one fell swoop (Macbeth).

3. He is also credited with inventing the now common names Olivia, Miranda, Jessica and Cordelia (as well as the less popular such as Nerissa and Titania).

4. In Elizabethan theatre circles it was common for writers to collaborate on writing plays. Towards the end of his career Shakespeare worked with other writers on plays that have been credited to those writers. Other writers also worked on plays that are credited to Shakespeare. We know for certain that Timon of Athens was a collaboration with Thomas MiddletonPericles with George Wilkins; and The Two Noble Kinsmen with John Fletcher.

5.  Shakespeare’s last play – The Two Noble Kinsmen – is reckoned to have been written in 1613 when he was 49 years old.

6. The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play at just 1,770 lines long.

7. There are only two Shakespeare plays written entirely in verse: they are Richard II and King John. Many of the plays have half of the text in prose.

8. It’s certain that Shakespeare wrote at least two plays that have been lost – titled Cardenio, and Love’s Labour’s Won. It’s likely that Shakespeare wrote many more plays that have been lost.

9. It was illegal for women to perform in the theatre in Shakespeare’s lifetime so all the female parts were written for boys. The text of some plays like Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra refer to that. It was only much later, during the Restoration, that the first woman appeared on the English stage.

10. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English. He is the second most quoted writer in the English language – after the various writers of the Bible.

11. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre came to a premature end on 29th June 1613 after a cannon shot set fire to the thatched roof during a performance of Henry VIII. Within two hours the theatre was burnt to the ground, to be rebuilt the following year.

12. An outbreak of the plague in Europe resulted in all London theatres being closed between 1592 and 1594. As there was no demand for plays during this time, Shakespeare began to write poetry, completing his first batch of sonnets in 1593, aged 29.

13. Copyright didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time, as a result of which there was a thriving trade in copied plays. To help counter this, actors got their lines only once the play was in progress – often in the form of cue acting where someone backstage whispered them to the person shortly before he was supposed to deliver them.

14. In one of Hitler’s 1926 sketchbooks, there is a design for the staging of Julius Caesar. It portrays the Forum with the same sort of “severe deco” neoclassical architecture which would later create the setting for the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg.

715. The Lady Macbeth supporting figure on the Gower Statue of Shakespeare in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is modelled after actress Sarah Bernhardt. The bronze characters represent four elements of Shakespeare’s genius: Falstaff chortles for Comedy; Henry V holds the crown aloft for History, Hamlet with Yorick’s skull broods for Philosophy, and Lady Macbeth wrings her hands for Tragedy.

16. Many composers contemplated or tried writing operas about Shakespeare’s plays including Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Delius, and even Mozart who apparently almost wrote one about The Tempest.

17. In 1786, Queen Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias, did her own adaptation of Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor, titled “What it is to have Linen and Buck-baskets”. She also translated Timon of Athens. Other world leaders have attempted to translate Shakespeare’s plays too. Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, translated both Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili.

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