8 Great, Or Near-Great, Shakespeare Movie Adaptations
William Shakespeare is considered the greatest playwright of all time. His plays and poems have not only survived but thrived despite being over 400 years old. This is in large part due to his works being continually staged around the world, but also because they’ve been adapted literally hundreds of times for the big screen.
Many films stick to the plays verbatim, but to keep up with modern day tastes, filmmakers have chosen many ways to adapt his stories to appeal to broad audiences. Taking a Shakespearean plot and modifying the language, setting, characters or altering the storyline is very common. Some may scoff at the idea of “tarnishing” classic works of literature, but these are great ways to introduce younger audiences to something they might never have experienced.
Let’s play a game and see if you can guess the titles of the adapted films and which Shakespearean play they were inspired by, based on the story’s basic plot line. Be aware that a couple of the adaptations are intended for mature audiences.
A king is killed by his brother and becomes king. The prince is visited by a spirit or ghost which convinces him to confront his demons and exact revenge.
The story focusses on a unique leader, who is idolized by his community. He is betrayed by one of his closest friends due to jealousy.
A father who is concerned about who his two daughters date creates a set of rules that applies to both of them. One daughter is anxious to have male attention while the other is not interested.
A comedy involving a boy/girl set of twins. The sister must pretend to be her brother, and in the process a humorous love triangle of mistaken identity develops.
A dying father must split his land between his three daughters. Great conflicts follow, driving the father mad. The first name of the daughters are G,R, and C.
A ship crashes leaving a father and daughter stranded. Several years later another ship arrives at the remote place, and the daughter falls in love with a crew member of the recently crashed ship.
A young man goes to great efforts to win back the love of his life. There is also a play within a play which does not end according to plan.
There are two correct answers to this one: The story is about two families who are at odds with one another. A son and daughter from opposing families fall in love and try to keep it a secret.
William Shakespeare’s works have inspired countless other forms of entertainment and the arts, including dance, opera, music and even paintings. If your student has studied any of Shakespeare’s plays, having them see a movie adaptation would be a great treat; ask the to compare the classic play with the new version. Conversely, if your student is a fan of any of these films, that could be a great launching pad to get them interested in the original Shakespeare play.
As usual, YouTube is a great free (or low cost) resource to view some of the original plays. For example, here is an excellent production of Othello from 1995 with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh. And, if you’re a subscriber to Netflix or Amazon streaming, you’ll have many other options.
Finally, for a bit of fun, try this hilarious Shakespeare Insult Generator. Believe it or not, this site includes more than 1700 words that Shakespeare invented “thou roguish, tickle-brained, giglet!”
Peter Spain is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff and a manager at K12. A graduate from George Mason University, Peter has worked for several years in the education and entertainment industry. He strives to make learning fun for children by contributing to the games and activities section of the site, and keeping an eye out for advancements in edutainment.
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