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 Shakespeare, Film and Media  posted by  duggu   on 12/9/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Donaldson, Peter S., 21L.435 Shakespeare, Film and Media, Fall 2002. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare),  (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Course Highlights

This course features an extensive list of films and readings in the study materials section. The list is intended to provide a selective annotated reference guide to the most important publications in the field of Shakespeare.

Course Description

Filmed Shakespeare began in 1899, with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree performing the death scene from King John for the camera. Sarah Bernhardt, who had played Hamlet a number of times in her long career, filmed the duel scene for the Paris Exposition of 1900. In the era of silent film (1895-1929) several hundred Shakespeare films were made in England, France Germany and the United States, Even without the spoken word, Shakespeare was popular in the new medium. The first half-century of sound included many of the most highly regarded Shakespeare films, among them -- Laurence Olivier's Hamlet and Henry V, Orson Welles' Othello and Chimes at Midnight, Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, Polanski's Macbeth and Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. We are now in the midst of an extremely rich and varied period for Shakespeare on film which began with the release of Kenneth Branagh's Henry V in 1989 and includes such films as Richard Loncraine's Richard III, Julie Taymor's Titus, Zeffirelli and Almereyda's Hamlet films, Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, and Shakespeare in Love. The phenomenon of filmed Shakespeare raises many questions for literary and media studies about adaptation, authorship, the status of "classic" texts and their variant forms, the role of Shakespeare in youth and popular culture, and the transition from manuscript, book and stage to the modern medium of film and its recent digitally inflected forms.

Most of our work will involve individual and group analysis of the "film text" -- that is, of specific sequences in the films, aided by videotape, DVD, the Shakespeare Electronic Archive, and some of the software tools for video annoatation developed by the MIT Shakespeare Project under the MIT-Microsoft iCampus Initiative.

We will study the films as works of art in their own right, and try to understand the means -- literary, dramatic, performative, cinematic -- by which they engage audiences and create meaning. With Shakespeare film as example, we will discuss how stories cross time, culture and media, and reflect on the benefits as well as the limitations of such migration.

The class will be conducted as a structured discussion, punctuated by student presentations and "mini-lectures" by the instructor. Students will introduce discussions, prepare clips and examples, and the major "written" work will take the form of presentations to the class and multimedia annotations as well as conventional short essays.

The methodological bias of the class is close "reading" of both text and film. This is a class in which your insights will form a major part of the work and will be the basis of a large fraction of class discussion. You will need to read carefully, to watch and listen to the films carefully, and develop effective ways of conveying your ideas to the class.

*Some translations represent previous versions of courses.

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Prof. Peter S. Donaldson

Course Meeting Times

Two sessions / week
2 hours / session




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Class Sessions

Class will meet twice per week for film viewing and/or discussion. Make sure you do all the reading and are prepared to participate fully in the discussion.


The assignments for this subject will include:

  1. Notes and annotations keyed to specific passages in the films we watch, prepared for each class. The length, complexity and format of these notes will vary, depending on several factors, including whether it's your turn to begin a discussion and whether we have on-line tools available for the film being discussed, but the expectation will be that each student prepares at least several well-defined short notes for each film.
  2. Discussion introductions/presentations. Each student will introduce at least one film, beginning with a ten-minute multimedia presentation on some question, theme, or pattern in the film, using video clips, cued up videotape, DVD or online tools. These presentations will usually be made by two students working together.
  3. Short papers. Two 3 page papers will be assigned during the term.
  4. Final project/presentation. During the last two weeks of class, each student will present a 20 minute multimedia paper/presentation on a film or a topic relating to several films. The projects will usually be prepared by pairs of students working together.


A list in the study materials section includes a few key articles and books relevant to the films we will study. Starred entries appear in the calendar and everyone should read them. Others are recommended and may be useful in preparing final projects.



Ses # Topics Key Dates
1 Introduction; Discussion and Analysis of clips from Midsummer Night's Dream (Reinhardt/Dieterle, 1935 and Peter Hall, 1969)  
2 Discussion of Reinhardt/Dieterle and Hall scenes. Screening: Midsummer Night's Dream (Hoffmann, 1999)  
3 Discussion of Hoffman MND  
4 Student-led discussion of MND Act 5 and film endings. Screening: Henry V (Olivier, 1944)  
5 Student presentation, discussion  
6 Discussion of Henry V films  
7 Student presentation, Discussion. Screening: My Own Private Idaho  
8 Student presentation, discussion  
9 Student presentation, discussion of Zeffirelli Taming of the Shrew. Screening: 10 Things I Hate About You  
10 Discussion of 10 Things I Hate About You  
11 Discusssion of Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet  
12 Discusssion of Zeffirelli and Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet. Screening: Shakespeare in Love  
13 Discussion of Shakespeare in Love Paper Due
14 Discussion of Hamlet 1.4 and 1.5. Screening: Hamlet(Olivier, 1948)  
15 Discussion of Olivier Hamlet  
16 Discussion of Almereyda Hamlet. Screening: Richard III(Loncraine, 1996)  
17 Discussion of Richard III  
18 Discussion of Looking for Richard  
19 Discussion of Richard films. Screening: Titus (Julie Taymor, 1999) Paper Due
20 Discussion of Titus  
21 Discussion of Olivier King Lear. Screening King Lear 1985 (Godard)  
22 Discussion of Godard King Lear  
23 Final projects. Screening: Prospero's Books (Greenaway, 1992)  
24 Final projects; discussion of Prospero's Books  
25 Final projects. Screening: Tempest (Paul Mazursky, 1982)  
26 Final projects   Tell A Friend