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Shakespeare and Film

ENG 314

Shakespeare and Film

  • Course ID:ENG 314
  • Semesters:1
  • Department:English
  • Teachers:Joseph Bissex

Description and Objectives

The translation of Shakespeare plays to film reveals both the enduring power of his stories, and the creativity of the film artists who translated his stories into a medium of which the playwright had no knowledge. Our role in this class is to take on the double role of academic analyst and movie critic, comparing and contrasting different film interpretations based on a thorough understanding of the plays. Note: I’ve chosen to focus on Romeo and Juliet, because it is the only play of the three most adapted (the other two being Macbeth and Hamlet) that does not appear in the Heights curriculum.


Topics Covered

  • Advantages and disadvantages of translating to the film medium.
  • Revelation of directorial interpretations and their comparative success.
  • Connections between historical moments and film productions.


    • Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, (edited) 
    • Romeo and Juliet, dir. Franco Zeffirelli (edited), with Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting
    • Romeo + Juliet, dir. Baz Luhrmann (edited), with Leonardo diCaprio, Claire Danes
    • Short clips of other adaptations may include:
      • Macbeth, dir. Orson Welles, with Orson Welles and Jeanette Nolan
      • Throne of Blood, dir. Akira Kurosawa, with Toshiru Mifune, Isuzu Yamada
      • West Side Story, dir. Steven Spielberg, with Ariana DuBose, David Alvarez
      • Othello, dir. Oliver Parker, with Laurence Fishburne, Kenneth Branagh
      • O, dir. Tim Blake Nelson, with Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles
      • 10 Things I Hate About You, dir. Gil Junger., with Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles
      • Taming of the Shrew, dir. Franco Zeffirelli, with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor
      • Hamlet, dir. Laurence Olivier, with Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, Jean Simmons
      • Hamlet, dir. Kenneth Branagh, with Kenneth Branagh and a lot of stunt casting
      • Hamlet, dir. Franco Zeffirelli, with Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Ian Holm
      • Ophelia, dir. Claire McCarthy, with Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen

Course Requirements

  • Attendance is paramount, as viewing and film critique will be done in class.
  • Completion of all readings and assignments by the given due dates.
  • Active class participation and critical questioning.
  • Above all, turn in essays early and take advantage of the rewrite option.
  • Assignments vary from quarter to quarter, but the focus will be short critical essays of plays and films. Students will write approximately one 2-page essay every two weeks, with the opportunity to do one rewrite.

Successful Students

  • Successful students will be on time, with books and notes in hand, and be prepared to engage the material.  They will display attentiveness to detail and foster habits of creative initiative and a collaborative spirit. Above all, they will turn in writing assignments early and take advantage of the rewrite option to raise their grade. Good writing is rewriting!