English 276: Shakespeare on Film

MW 12:30-2:20

Fall semester, 2006


Charles Ross, Professor of English

Office hours: M 2:30-3:30; W 11:30-12:20; Th. 3:30-4:00, or by appointment.

Heavilon Hall 304A

tel. 4-3740

email: cross@purdue.edu



1) Bevington, David; Shakespeare: Stage, Screen, Script. New York: Longman Pearson, 2005.

Available at Von’s Bookstore.



1) Taming of the Shrew, directed by Franco Zeffirelli; starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (1968; 122 minutes)

2) The Tragedy of Richard III, starring Ian McKellen (1995; 104 minutes)

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

4) Hamlet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli; starring Mel Gibson (1990; 135 minutes)

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

6) Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski (1971; 139 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.



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).






The Taming of the Shrew

August 21, 23, 28, 30 (no class Sept. 4)


Romeo and Juliet

September 6, 11, 13, 18, 20:


Richard III

September 25, 27, (no class Oct. 2), Oct. 4, (no class Oct. 9), 11


Midterm: October 16



October 18, 23, 25, 30, Nov. 1, 6


Much Ado About Nothing

November 6, 8, 13, 15 comparison to ending of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life



20 (no class November 22), 27, 29, Dec. 4, 6


Final exam: Thursday December 14 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM in EE270. Review.


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. 



1. Recite a passage or act out a scene in class (ca. 25 lines).

2. Make a 3-minute video based on the passage or scene and present it in class.

3. 8-10 page paper: Compare and contrast a scene of Shakespeare with two or more film versions and discuss the implications. I will return one completed draft, marked and with comments (but not graded), if received by December 4. The paper is due anytime up through the day of the final exam.

4. Contribute to (be present for) informal class discussion and activities.

5. Midterm exam.

6. Final Exam (cumulative over six plays).


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.



To earn an A in the course, it is necessary but not sufficient that you receive an A- or better on the paper and the final exam.




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. Film has more freedom of movement through space and tends to concentrate more on visual effects, and less on language, than theater. You should know something about the great directors and actors of Shakespearean film, but also about the limits of film as an art form (e.g., it is static and often fails to achieve a coherent vision). 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.


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/