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August 13, 2010 8:50 PM   Subscribe

If one were to collect scenes from Shakespeare films to compare how different productions approached them differently, what scenes should be selected?

Ok, let me explain. I have a weird obsession with comparing different ways of doing things. I love covers of songs and remakes of films and all kinds of things like that, just to see how the little (or not so little) differences affect the whole.

I also love shakespeare, and, because I was bored one day, I took the Hamlet productions I had on film and cut out their versions of Act II, scene ii (The "You are a fishmonger" sequence.) and put it on the Youtubes.

And I got a real kick out of the comparison, and will likely add to it shortly. And I'd like to do some more with the various plays, but while I know Hamlet inside and out, my knowledge of the other plays, and more importantly their filmed versions, varies from heavy to almost nil.

So my question becomes: What scenes, sequences, etc. in the Shakespeare canon have the most interesting variances in how they appear on film, as well as hopefully being interesting scenes in their own right?
posted by John Kenneth Fisher to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Compare Polanski's Macbeth to any other versions, especially the opening scene with the witches.
posted by Think_Long at 9:15 PM on August 13, 2010

I don't have productions I can point to, but in Catholic high school I remember the nuns praising the courtroom scene in The Merchant of Venice. We were required to memorize "The quality of mercy . . ." which was presented as a variation of The Lord's Prayer - perfectly capturing kindness, forgiveness, and the principles of Christianity. Fast forward to a college course on Shakespeare, in which a professor explained that the speech is a perfect example of Christian hypocrisy. I was shocked - but fascinated.
posted by kbar1 at 9:34 PM on August 13, 2010

For Henry V, I'd set aside the scenes that are all about Harry and look to the treatment of the Celtic fringe (Fluellen, Jamy & MacMorris) and the Eastcheapers (Pistol, Nym, Bardolph).
posted by holgate at 10:08 PM on August 13, 2010

The Romeo & Juliet movie with Leonardo DiCaprio is a great example. The entire movie is a giant re-working, right from the opening seconds where the narrator is a newscaster, the Prince is the chief of police, etc, etc. Hand me my longsword, Montague says, and we're shown that "Longsword" is a brand of rifle.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:34 PM on August 13, 2010

Richard III and King Lear and Romeo and Juliet have all been adapted on film with really fascinating variations.
posted by prefpara at 10:51 PM on August 13, 2010

Hamlet by Tony Richardson differs from Hamlet by Kenneth Branagh, which is different than Hamlet with Mel Gibson, which is very different from Hamlet with Ethan Hawke. You could use the soliloquy, scenes with Ophelia, or even the play.

Hamlet with Ethan Hawke is a version set in modern NYC, where Hamlet is a filmmaker and Ophelia a photographer. Denmark is a corporation and Claudius, its new CEO.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:42 PM on August 13, 2010

Whoops, I must've glazed over the fact you've been through Hamlet. Must not post at nearly 3am.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:44 PM on August 13, 2010

In Romeo and Juliet, the "Queen Mab" speech is a great example to compare and contrast. The Zeffirelli version, if I remember correctly, is more of a traditional interpretation, emphasizing a somewhat deflated, darker version of Romeo's dream of love that turns into puns on prostitution. In the Baz Lurhman version, Mercutio (dressed in drag) tackles more of the homo-erotic undertones of the speech and seems blatantly jealous of Romeo's attention to Rosalind and the opposite sex in general.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 12:11 AM on August 14, 2010

The Kenneth Branagh version and the Laurence Olivier of Henry V couldn't be more different. The scene where Henry deals with the three English nobles who plan to betray him to the French is entirely omitted from the Olivier version (I suppose that would make it less useful for your purposes), and while in Branagh's version the night before the battle of Agincourt is long, with Henry filled with self-doubt, I seem to recall that Olivier's is a brief prayer to the Almighty and a couple of brisk words to his man.
posted by rjs at 12:57 AM on August 14, 2010

(... his men.)
posted by rjs at 12:58 AM on August 14, 2010

Another option would be Richmond's speech at the end of Richard III, which might be presented as the triumph of good over evil, or as one (boring and self-righteous) arsehole vanquishing another (entertaining) one.
posted by rjs at 1:26 AM on August 14, 2010

It would be fascinating to include scenes from two films that tell the stories in Shakespeare's plays from different perspectives: Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight, which tells several stories from the perspective of Falstaff; and Stoppard's Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which tells (parts of) the story of Hamlet from the perspective of two minor characters.
posted by googly at 5:21 AM on August 14, 2010

If you do MacBeth, beyond the more traditional versions make sure to look at Throne of Blood and Scotland, PA.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:11 AM on August 14, 2010

These are all very cool. Thank you. To clarify a bit, I'm looking more for specific scenes and sequences from each play, if anyone has some suggestions there. :-)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 6:29 AM on August 14, 2010

I don't know how many filmed versions you'll find (other than the Burton/Taylor one), but I would like to see multiple versions of the final scene in "Taming of the Shrew."

In my view, that play is about ... um ... a shrew being TAMED. I really can't think of many other plays that so clearly state their theme in their title and so clearly and straight-forwardly carry that theme through. To me it's very, very simple: Katherine is a wild animal. Petruccio tames her. The end.

But for obvious reasons, this straightforward way of looking at the play bothers many people, including many actors and directors. It bothers me, too, but I think it's kind of interesting to feel bothered. I haven't directed "Shrew" yet, but when I do, I intend to take that sexist approach.

Either that, or I won't do the play at all. I am fine with avoiding offensive things, but I don't think there's much point to producing them and trying to make them un-offensive -- especially when by doing so you're perverting them so far away from what they obviously are. (E.g. I would never try to force "King Lear" to be a comedy, just because it upsets me.)

Having said that, I would find it fascinating to see how a hundred different directors (and their actors) dealt with that last scene.

The other scene I'd love to see a many variations of is that early one in Richard III between Richard and Anne, in which he woos her. (Boy, it really sounds like I enjoy scenes where men bully and abuse women! I swear. It's a coincidence!) I think that scene is very, very, very difficult. It's an awesome acting-class scene. In about two pages, Anne has to go from loathing Richard (so much that she wants to kill him) to agreeing to sleep with him. It's fascinating to see how the actors work that out, whether they make it believable or not.
posted by grumblebee at 8:01 AM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Act III, Scene ii in King Lear. This is the storm scene, the one that starts "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!"

It's not only one of the most seminal scenes in Shakespeare, but it's also tremendously wide open in the ways it can be interpreted for the stage.
posted by 256 at 8:20 AM on August 14, 2010

I love the play-within-the-play sequence of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's one of those things that lends itself to endless invention, and is one of the funniest scenes in the comedies.
posted by graymouser at 8:45 AM on August 14, 2010

I think the closet scene from Hamlet is a great one--many versions, and lots of strong differences. Also, for MND, the transition from the court to the countryside will really highlight design choices. For extra nerdery, you could look around for any clips from The Wooster Group production of Hamlet, in which the Richard Burton film is playing in the background pretty much all the time!
posted by Mngo at 10:28 AM on August 14, 2010

A slightly oblique answer to your question, but I would recommend watching Playing Shakespeare an english TV series originally from the 80s presented by John Barton (co-founder of the RSC) and featuring among others Peggy Ashcorft, Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and David Suchet

There maybe more discussion of verse and such than you are interested in, but the part I have always found fascinating is the scenes played several times with several readings, sometimes by the same actor, sometimes by different actors, with discussions of what's going on and why you might do thing one way rather than another. Oriented towards stage performance of course and filmed versions may do something different, but a great starting place and using some of the finest Shakespearian actors around.

To link it back to your actual question there are many scenes played in the series which would be perfect examples to go and check against other filmed versions -- many of them the famous scenes such as the "Blow, winds," one mentioned above, others less obvious but no less instructive. John Barton always mentions the play and scene, so it would be easy to work out which ones you're interested in.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 4:56 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I came here to suggest an Ian McKellen vs. Laurence Olivier Richard III throwdown. I grew up on Olivier's film and love it to bits, lurid '70s costumes and all. Olivier also includes Colley Cibber's textual interpolations, which were standard throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. He splits the Richard/Anne scene into two scenes, to

The Richard/Anne scene features in Al Pacino's Looking For Richard, an amazing piece of meta-Shakespeare which I also loved.

Other than the Richard/Anne scene, you could have a look at the murder of Clarence and/or III.iv, the "strawberries" scene before the coronation.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:32 PM on August 15, 2010

Thanks. Great suggestions all. As a sidenote, here's my comparison thing for Hamlet's fishmonger sequence, with Part 3 just uploaded now and part 4 coming shortly:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:51 AM on August 21, 2010

oh, and 4. I'm done now with these though and on to some of the suggestions above.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 5:17 AM on August 29, 2010

And I'm putting them together on the web if anyone is still reading this. Though as of this mention it's very rudimentary, very small, and half the pages aren't designed yet :-p (not that it'll stray much from the built-in settings of my blogging software. My days of playing with web design all night are gleefully behind me)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:51 AM on October 10, 2010

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