Read it First: At Home Edition - Shakespeare with a Twist!

Elizabeth Graney, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
Film adaptations of Shakespeare's works
Happy (possible) birthday and (definite) death day to Mr. William Shakespeare!

Did you know that scholars are uncertain as to Shakespeare’s actual birthday? We have a record of his baptism on April 26, 1564 and a burial marker that states he was 52 when he passed, but no more physical evidence to go on. It is often celebrated on April 23 for a variety of compelling reasons and, if nothing else, it provides his life a beautiful symmetry. So happy (possible) birthday and (definite) death day to Mr. William Shakespeare! In celebration we bring you even more film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. This time we’re looking at versions that take his classic work and consider it from another angle with Read it First: Shakespeare with a Twist!

Watch and Read at Home

Book cover for Cymbeline
Shakespeare, William

Under pressure from his wife, the King of Britain orders his daughter, Imogen, to marry his brutish stepson. When she defies him to wed the poor but worthy Posthumus, Posthumus is banished and Imogen’s loyalty tested. This tale of love, jealousy, and the brutal pursuit of power is one of Shakespeare’s most rarely performed plays.

Ethan Hawke’s modern day version from 2014 sets the conflict between crooked cops, a biker gang and a drug lord.

Book cover for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
Stoppard, Tom

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead takes two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and explores what happened behind the scenes of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. A witty and darkly comic look at the existential crisis of background characters by a master playwright.

The 1990 film version stars Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfuss.

Book cover for Loves Labour's Lost
Loves Labour's Lost
Shakespeare, William

After swearing off love and courting for three years to focus on their studies, the King of Navarre and his companions meet and immediately fall for the Princess of France and her ladies in waiting. A comedy about love, desire and the struggle to reconcile the heart and the mind.

A Kenneth Branagh star powerhouse, the film version stages Shakespeare’s comedy as a 1930’s musical.

Book cover for Othello
Shakespeare, William

After discovering the secret marriage of the beautiful Desdemona to the Moorish general Othello, jealous Roderigo teams up with the duplicitous Iago to exact revenge. Shakespeare’s classic tale of jealousy, racism and power hungry minions.

This version sets the play in a modern day elite high school, whose successful basketball team captain spurs the jealousy of other students.

Book cover for Measure for Measure
Measure for Measure
Shakespeare, William

After being left in charge of Vienna, the puritanical Angelo begins to strictly enforce the city’s old morality laws and young Claudio is sentenced to death for impregnating his fiancee. When his sister Isabella, a novice nun, begs for his pardon, hypocritical Angelo asks her to exchange her virginity for her brother's life. The darkest of Shakespeare’s comedies, Measure for Measure tackles morality and justice and their place in the law.

This 2006 adaptation sets the play in the modern day British army.

Book cover for A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William

Helena pines for Demetrius, but Demetrius only has eyes for Hermia. And Hermia is in love with Lysander, but her father has betrothed her to Demetrius. So begins Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy about unrequited love, a love potion gone terribly awry and the trickeries that love plays on us all.

We have two recent film adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream available through our streaming services. The first, from 2017, stars Rachel Leigh-Cook and is set in modern day Los Angeles. A Caribbean Dream, the 2019 adaptation, sets Shakespeare’s classic comedy during a festival in current day Barbados.

Book cover for Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Shakespeare, William

After the untimely death of his father and the suspiciously quick remarriage of his mother to his uncle, Prince Hamlet of Denmark returns home to ponder the moral implications of filial duty and the pitfalls of revenge.

Ethan Hawke’s 2000 version sets Hamlet in the corporate world, where the death of the president of the Denmark Corporation sets off the classic tale of betrayal and revenge.