Five Accessible Shakespeare Adaptations

Is there no play, To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?

Last year saw the release of a new adaptation of Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as well as the announcement of a second series of Hollow Crown films. I have yet to see the former (I so want to) and the latter has yet to be released, but they did get me thinking about adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, both on screen, and on the stage. Shakespeare’s body of work is huge. Just look at a copy of his complete works. They’re not lightweight. When you factor in the sheer number adaptations, the scale is staggering, and more than a little intimidating, especially for someone looking to get started on or brushing up on their Shakespeare.

Never fear—the Killer Moose are here! This is a list of five accessible adaptations of Shakespeare’s works. Some are film adaptations, some are filmed stage productions, and at least one is something entirely different (but spectacular nonetheless).

 

1. Much Ado About Nothing (2011). Filmed stage production.

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Starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate and directed by Josie Rourke, at Wyndham’s Theatre in London, this is my favorite production of Much Ado About Nothing. Set in the 1980s, with Messina interpreted as an island, this production is full of color, music and laughs. The modern setting and the movement and physical comedy injected into every scene makes the action of the plot readily apparent. Tennant and Tate are buddies in real life and that chemistry comes through beautifully in their roles. Their dynamic especially helps make the central relationship of the play clear. Also, if you’re a Doctor Who fan, it’s wonderful to see the Doctor and Donna reunited!

How to watch: Digital Theatre. It’s free to sign up and the production is available to buy ($12.99) or rent ($5.99)

2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999). Film.

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Set in Italy at the turn of the last century, this film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Michael Hoffman features an all-star cast and bicycles! Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline, Rupert Everett, Stanley Tucci, Christian Bale, Calista Flockhart, Anna Friel and Dominic West star in this well balanced adaptation, which does a good job contrasting the comedy with the play’s darker tones. I have a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I’ve acted it, studied it and directed it) and I am inordinately picky when it comes to adaptations. This is is one I greatly enjoy. If you’re looking to add some Shakespeare to your watchlist and want something lighthearted, charming and funny, this is definitely an excellent choice.

How to watch: DVD, or Amazon Video, available to buy ($12.99) or rent ($3.99)

3. Romeo + Juliet (1996). Film.

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This film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes and directed by Baz Luhrmann, is a perfect example of how Shakespeare can be adapted into a modern setting and the plot and the background of the play reinterpreted to suit the new backdrop. It’s edgy, unique and visually interesting to watch. This film would not  make a list of my favorite Shakespeare adaptations but it’s a great pick, a great starting point, for someone looking to test the vast waters of Shakespeare.

How to watch: DVD, or Amazon Video, available to buy ($9.99) or rent ($3.99)

4. Macbeth (2007/2010). Stage production/Filmed adaptation.

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This is a unique one. Based off a highly successful stage production, starring Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood which was directed by Rupert Goold, this adaptation exists as something in between a true film adaptation and a filmed stage production. I’m not going to lie; Patrick Stewart is mesmerizing as the eponymous lead and so is Kate Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth (and you might even recognize her from her small appearance as an First Order officer in The Force Awakens). The two stars, and the entirety of the supporting cast understand Shakespearean language down to their bones and it shows in how easily understandable they make the dialogue. The setting is also unique. The action is placed in an underground military bunker with costumes reminiscent of World War II, which makes for a fascinating background to the play’s themes. Also, the witches reinterpreted as wartime nurses is truly terrifying.

How to watch: DVD, or free to watch with an Amazon Prime account.

5. Slings & Arrows

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Last, but certainly not least, is not so much an adaptation of Shakespeare, but something that is born so specifically from it, it might as well be. Slings & Arrows is a Canadian TV series about the fictional New Burbage Festival (based on real life Stratford festival) and the actors, directors and crew that work together to put on Shakespearean productions. There are three seasons, each revolving around a specific Shakespeare play (though other plays do make appearances). At only 18 episodes overall, Slings & Arrows is not a huge time commitment but it is so funny, so smart, so positively bonkers, you’re going to watch it multiple time, I guarantee it! Slings & Arrows is a Killer Moose favorite (we reference and quote it incessantly). It’s all about living and breathing Shakespeare and is so frequently a love letter to the bard, both in the depictions of stage productions and in the mirroring of the plot with Shakespearean tropes, that in addition to re-watching the show, you’re going to want to go and see all the Shakespeare you can find once you’re done.

How to watch: DVD or all episodes are available for purchase with Amazon Video. The first episode is free to watch, with ads, episodes are $2.99, or you can get season 1 for $14.99 and seasons 2 and 3 for $10.99 each.