As a part of the BBC’s Shakespeare Festival, BBC Four’s Arena strand is taking a look back over the history of Shakespeare adaptations. At ERA we know the impact broadcast material can have as a teaching resource, so this Arena programme could act as a wonderful “shopping list” for educators looking at unusual ways to make the Bard more accessible.
In a week where controversy over the new GCSE drama courses wherein students do not necessarily need to go and see a live performance, an open letter from a number of actors and teachers’ associations condemning the move did note that:
“Recordings of live productions are valuable teaching tools but they should be in addition to the experience of live performance, not a substitute for it.”
At ERA we believe that recorded performances of the Bard can be used in conjunction with live theatre to demonstrate the principals of storytelling: adaptations can show how Shakespeare’s works feature universal themes, as well as considering the nature of ‘modernising’ – which elements of plot truly make a story recognisable?
From the silent days of cinema, Shakespeare’s plays have often been adapted to the big screen. Film-makers relished his vivid characters and dramatic plots as well as the magic and poetry of his work.
At first the results were patchy, then came Laurence Olivier. With Henry V, made to stir patriotic spirit during the Second World War, he perfectly translated Shakespeare from the stage to the screen. He followed Henry V with Hamlet, and both were smash hits. Olivier led the way for directors as diverse as Orson Welles, Kurosawa, Franco Zeffirelli, Roman Polanski, Baz Luhrmann and Kenneth Branagh.
The Bard’s language has been no barrier, with bold versions of his dramas coming out of Russia, Japan, India and many other countries, not to mention Hollywood’s free adaptations in genres as diverse as musicals and science fiction. Already over 30 films worldwide have been produced based on Romeo and Juliet alone.
For the first time in a single documentary, Arena explores the rich, global history of Shakespeare in the cinema, with a treasure trove of film extracts and archival interviews with their creators.
We’re really excited about this Arena special at ERA, as it provides a great basis for teachers looking for ways to demonstrate the cross-cultural, and long lasting appeal of Shakespeare’s characters.
Arena: All the World’s a Screen airs on Arena, BBC Four at 9pm on the 24th April