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The Film’s the thing – Shakespeare and Hollywood

Brendan correctly indentified the Shakespeare play in my last post as Hamlet (a ghost and prince meet/And everyone ends in mincemeat). The mincemeat is a reference to the bloody final scene, in which four major characters die before the final curtain. Brendan also nailed the song as ‘That’s Entertainment’ from the film musical The Band Wagon.

Shakespeare has been a surprisingly influential figure in Hollywood. From the salad days of silent film to contemporary high school comedies like Ten things I Hate About You, the plays have been a major source of material. One reason for this is that they are naturally cinematic: with fast moving plots, contrasting scenes and dramatic changes in scenery and location.

Not that modern Hollywood is a great centre of Shakespearian scholarship. There are a few high prestige projects: Al Pacino’s The Merchant of Venice or Mel Gibson’s Hamlet. Generally, however, the words by William Shakespeare are considered box-office poison at the multiplexes across America and the world. The central problem is the poetry; the assumption being that audiences will respond as Casca does to Cassius in Julius Caesar: ‘It’s all Greek to me’.

This is one reason why many A list stars secretly agree with Sylvester Stallone’s haughty dismissal of the world’s greatest dramatist: ‘I don’t like his stuff’ he confessed.

Ready for some teasers? Find the following:

a Two film musicals have been based on Shakespeare plays.
b A biopic (of sorts!) that was an Oscar-winning film in 1998.
c A word from my opening paragraph which appears frequently in Macbeth.
d A phrase from Antony and Cleopatra from my second paragraph.
e A Hamlet reference in the title of this post.

Answers will be posted on Monday.

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Kieran McGovern


  • a. “Kiss Me, Kate” is one; I don’t know the other.
    b. “Shakespeare in Love”
    c. “Bloody”
    d. “Salad Days”
    e. The Play’s the thing”

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