The Complete Shakespeare Experience
The earliest known production of Shakespeare
on film is a scene from King John shot by the
British Mutoscope and Biograph Company in
1899 and starring Sir Herbert Beerboehm Tree.
Four excerpts were filmed but only one
remains—Act V, Scene 2), the death scene.
Shot on 68 mm film from the stage version
being performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, the clip was found in an Amsterdam film archive in 1990.
Other filmmakers followed, with Shakespeare
adaptations in France, Germany, Italy, and the
United States. The French stage and film
actress, Sarah Bernhardt, filmed the duel scene from Hamlet in a production that screened at the 1900 Paris Exposition, while in 1907, Georges Melies, directed a one-
Italian filmmaker Giovanni Pastrone produced an almost operatic extravaganza of Giuliio Cesare (Julius Caesar) in 1909 and in 1910 director Gerolamo Lo Savio put his talents to work in Il Mercante di Venezia (The Merchant of Venice).
Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York provided the backdrop for a 1909 Vitagraph production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream while the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park became a street in Verona for the 1908 production of Romeo and Juliet.
Veteran Shakespearean actor Frederick Ward starred in the 1912 feature-
The first Shakespeare production in the age of sound saw Mary Pickford take the role of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew released in the U.S. in 1929. Hollywood stars continued to take roles in Shakespeare films, including James Cagney and Mickey Rooney as Bottom and Puck in the 1935 Warner Brothers production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 1936, Irving Thalberg produced director George Cukor’s version of Romeo and Juliet starring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard. In 1952, John Houseman and Joseph L. Mankewicz produced Julius Caesar which featured Marlon Brando as Mark Antony.
Among the classic renditions of Shakespeare in film is the 1944 British version of Henry V, starring Laurence Olivier. In 1948, Olivier took on Hamlet, and in 1955, he starred in Richard III in a version that was one of the earliest televised versions of Shakespeare’s work. The American classic productions starred Orson Welles as Macbeth in 1948 and Othello in 1952. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa presented Kumonosu-
Hollywood again tackled the Bard’s work with Franco Zefferelli’s 1966 production of The Taming of the Shrew, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, followed by Romeo and Juliet in 1968.