English 276: Shakespeare on Film


Fall semester, 2007

MW 10:30-12:20



Charles Ross, Professor of English              Ed Plough, TA

Office hours: M: 3-4:15,                   Office hours: MW: 2:20-3:30   

 T: 11:00-12:30 and by appointment         Heavilon Hall 215      

Heavilon Hall 304A                    Phone: 4-3121

Phone. 4-3740                         eplough@purdue.edu



Course Goals:


After finishing this course, you should feel comfortable reading and understanding Shakespeare’s plays. You should know something about Shakespeare’s life and language, be able to distinguish prose and verse, and know what makes a comedy and a tragedy. You should understand how the verse form of iambic pentameter helps us understanding Shakespeare’s meaning. You should understand how reading or dramatizing a Shakespeare play differs from filming it. You should know something about the great directors and actors of Shakespearean films, and also about the possibilities of film as an art form (e.g. using filmic techniques to bring refreshing, new ideas to the play).


The overall point of the course, in addition to the aspects of drama as a mode of presentation, is to introduce you to ways of thinking and experiences different from what everyday life and modern media offer. Reading Shakespeare can help you decide what aspects, if any, of human nature are timeless, as well as give you an appreciation of literary excellence.




There are three kinds of basic analysis used in this course. One is a comparison of the text to the film, looking first of all at what words are left out and what visual effects, including changes in scene, are added. These changes help define how a director interprets a particular play. The second analysis is a line-by-line commentary. The third analysis is what I call an “action” analysis. Because Shakespeare wrote in scenes, a scene-by-scene analysis seeks to determine what character, motivated by circumstances, makes the most significant moral choice in a given scene. Each of these three kinds of analysis is variable, meaning that it is up to you or me to persuade others that what we see is important and to realize that a persuasive case may be made for another point of view.

We will also engage in lively, in-class discussions, so be ready to contribute. Many of these discussions will involve use of the CPS response pad, so do not forget to bring it to every class.


Required Texts and Materials:


1)  Bevington, David; Shakespeare: Stage, Screen, Script. New York: Longman Pearson, 2005. (Available at Von’s Bookstore).


2)  CPS Response Pad, Generation 2. (Available at University Bookstore)




1)  Taming of the Shrew, directed by Franco Zeffirelli; starring

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (1968; 122 minutes)


2)  Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski (1971; 139 minutes)


3)  Titus, directed by Julie Taymor; starring Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Alan Cumming  (2000; 162 minutes)


4)  Richard III, starring Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr., and Maggie Smith (1995; 104 minutes)


5)  Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Lurhmann, starring Claire Danes and Leonard DiCaprio (1996; 120 minutes)


6)  Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Kenneth Branagh; starring Branagh, Emma Thompson, Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves, and Denzel Washington (1993; 111 minutes)


DVDs are on reserve in the Hicks Undergraduate library. You are encouraged to order your own copies of various films (from Amazon, for example), but it is sufficient that you attend screenings in class and read the plays. I will sometimes have copies to lend.









Essay #1, 3-5 pages                             10 points

Essay #2, 8-10 pages                                 20 points

Video Project, 3 minutes                                  10 points

Exam #1, Taming & Macbeth                            20 points

Exam #2, Titus & Richard III                         20 points

Exam #3, R+J & Much Ado                         20 points


The exams will include identifications of characters and passages, as well as questions on material about Shakespeare’s life and times presented in class during the course of the semester. At least half the exam (one hour) will be essay.


Grading Scale


Your points will be translated into percentages; your final grade will be calculated according to the following percentage scale:


100 - 90: A

89 - 80: B

79 - 70: C

69 - 60: D

59 - 0: F


Although such instances are rare, I reserve the right to reward students who have shown dramatic progress with higher grades than the scale suggests. Note about Incompletes: The mark of ‘I’ is inappropriate if, in my judgment, it will be necessary for the student regularly to attend subsequent sessions of the class. I will give an Incomplete only in cases of extreme emergency.


Note: Purdue’s policy on film courses is to schedule them for four hours instead of three. That means an extra 750 minutes of class time per semester. Scheduled screenings for this class take up 731 minutes of this syllabus. That leaves a standard course of three full hours of class time.











Attendance is welcomed, expected, and mandatory. To best utilize our time, come to class on time. You are considered absent if you are more than 15 minutes late. If you do not regularly attend class, you must attend a conference with me to discuss whether you should continue in this course.


Deadlines and Submissions


You are expected to submit assignments by the deadlines listed. In order to be considered for a grade, all assignments are to be complete. Essays must be of the minimum page count, and must conform to MLA documentation and format (word-processed, 12 pt. legible font, double spaced, left aligned, one-inch margins). Late assignments will only be accepted with the specific, prior agreement of the instructor. No exceptions!




Cheating: All written work submitted for a grade in this course must be the product of your own composition. Ideas generated due to reading and group discussion may provide the inspiration for your work, but should not be the sole ideas represented. With collaborative projects, of course, ideas should be representative of the group’s work.


Plagiarism is the act of presenting as your own work another individual’s ideas, words, data, or research material. The concept applies equally to written, spoken, or electronic texts, published or unpublished. All ideas and quotations that you borrow from any source must be acknowledged: at a minimum, you should give the name of your author, the title of the text cited, and the page number(s) of the citation. The only exceptions to this requirement would involve what is familiar and commonly held (e.g. the fact that the Earth is round). You should know that penalties for plagiarism are severe and can entail suspension from the University. Students are responsible for reading and understanding the University policy on Cheating and Plagiarism set forth in Purdue University’s “Academic Integrity: A Guide for Students” available at:








Classroom Behavior


Insults, slurs, or attacks of any kind will not be allowed in my class. Any student who engages in this type of behavior in the classroom will be permanently removed from the class. In other words, forced to drop the course, in addition to other possible punishment given by Purdue University (See the Purdue University “Student Code of Conduct” available at: http://www.purdue.edu/usp/acad_policies/student_code.shtml.


In order to have an effective teaching and learning environment, we must practice both respect and tolerance, without question.


As we may be discussing subjects that are controversial to some students, all remarks made in class must be based solely on fact. Personal opinion and theological beliefs should not be brought into class discussions unless they are specifically requested. Please be advised that we may be reading about, discussing, and writing about issues of class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. If you have personal or theological beliefs that may hinder your discussion and/or participation, please let me know ASAP so that we can discuss your options.


The Writing Lab



The Writing Lab (HEAV 226) is a superb resource. That staff is willing to help no matter what stage you’re at in your paper, from brainstorming to putting on the final touches. Since writing a good paper entails having other people looking at it and giving you feedback, visits to the Writing Lab are highly recommended.


The Digital Learning Collaboratory (DLC)



The DLC (HIKS B853) is full of outstanding resources that you may wish to utilize for your research and composition. It includes a multimedia development and research area, a wireless instruction area, and collaboration rooms. You can access a wide variety of technological equipment (digital cameras and camcorders, high-end Macs and PC’s loaded with video editing, animation, and DVD creation software, etc.) as well as helpful assistants who can train you to use the equipment and/or software. Check out the available equipment, reserve workstations, and browse the DLC’s policies at: http://www.dlc.purdue.edu.






   Date                      In-Class

Week 1

August 20, 2007

M:     The Taming of the Shrew

W:     The Taming of the Shrew

Week 2

August 27, 2007

M:     The Taming of the Shrew

W:     The Taming of the Shrew

Week 3

September 5, 2007

M:     Labor Day – No Classes

W:     The Taming of the Shrew

Week 4

September 10, 2007

M:               Macbeth

W:               Macbeth

Week 5

September 17, 2007

M:               Macbeth

W:         Macbeth (Visitors)

Week 6

September 24, 2007

M:               Macbeth

W:               Exam #1

Week 7

October 1, 2007

M:                Titus

W:                Titus

Week 8

October 8, 2007

M:      October Break – No Class

W:                 Titus

Week 9

October 15, 2007

M:                 Titus

W:            Richard III

Week 10

October 22, 2007

M:            Richard III

W:            Richard III

Week 11

October 29, 2007

M:            Richard III

W:             Exam #2

Week 12

November 5, 2007

M:          Romeo + Juliet

W:          Romeo + Juliet

Week 19

November 12, 2007

M:          Romeo + Juliet

W:          Romeo + Juliet

Week 14

November 19, 2007

M:          Romeo + Juliet

W:  Thanksgiving Break – No Class

Week 15

November 26, 2007

M:      Much Ado About Nothing

W:      Much Ado About Nothing

Week 16

December 3, 2007

M:      Much Ado About Nothing

W:      Much Ado About Nothing



Read the six plays corresponding to the films. You should read the related introductory material in the Bevington edition. To review for exams, pay special attention to:


“Shakespeare’s Life” (pp. 7-11)


“The Sonnets” (pp. 25-28)

“Varieties of Verse and Prose” (pp. 28-31)

“Page to Stage” (pp. 48-49)

“Screenplay to Screen” (pp. 55-68)

“Shakespeare and Comedy” (pp. 73-76)

“Fathers and Daughters” and “Role Playing” (pp. 81-82)

“Franco Zeffirelli” (pp. 124-125)

“Kenneth Branagh’s Screenplay” (p. 268-271).

“More Recent Film Versions” (pp. 386-389)

“Baz Luhrman” (pp. 559-563)

“Characters” [Hamlet] (pp. 565-566)

“Olivier” (pp. 634-636)

The synopsis of Polanski’s Macbeth (pp. 811-812).



Study Hints:


1)  Read the assigned pages from the required texts.


2)  Read and outline each play: for each scene, list the characters, summarize what is happening, then write a one-sentence “action statement” that states in the main clause of the sentence the most important action that one character takes in that scene. This exercise is for your benefit to help you realize the structure of the plays.


3)  Bring your text to class and take notes.


4)  If you are trying to figure out how I think, you might also want to look at “Underwater Women in Shakespeare on Film” http://www.bcla.org/clcwebjournal/clcweb04-1/ross04.html and the chapter on Hamlet in my book The Custom of the Castle (Berkeley, 1997).


5)  Lectures are available on Boilercast: http://boilercast.itap.purdue.edu:1013/Boilercast/


 In the event of a major campus emergency, course requirements, deadlines and grading percentages are subject to changes that may be necessitated by a revised semester calendar or other circumstances.