I Can’t Believe It’s Not Shakespeare!: Tales Loosely Based on the Bard


A Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer
A steampunk retelling of The Tempest, set in an alternate reality.  Prospero Taligent imprisons a young storyteller–a friend of his daughter, Miranda–inside a zeppelin, powered by a perpetual motion machine.  In a mesh of dreams and diaries, Harold describes his childhood, his friendship with Miranda, and the brilliant inventions of Prospero.

Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike
A prequel to Hamlet that focuses on the fatal attraction between the Queen and Claudius which led him to murder his own brother.

Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King
The story of Lady Macbeth’s past which shaped her into the ambitious Scottish queen of Shakespeare’s play.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
A reimagining of King Lear, set on a farm in Iowa.  Three daughters struggle with their father’s senility, abusive husbands, and other pressures that cause their true natures to be revealed.  This book was adapted for film in 1997, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse.



Forbidden Planet (1956)
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (the MPAA began rating films in 1968)
Running Time: 98 min
A loose adaptation of The Tempest.  A brilliant scientist and his daughter are the only survivors from a ship of space-colonists on an uncharted planet.  When a rescue ship arrives, the scientist refuses to leave the planet, and the would-be rescuers begin to suspect that there is something more to the planet than meets the eye.  Meanwhile, the captain of the rescue ship falls in love with the scientist’s daughter.

Kiss Me Kate (1953)
Director: George Sidney
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (the MPAA began rating films in 1968)
Running Time: 109 min
A divorced couple reunite professionally as the leads in a musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew.  Unfortunately it is difficult to keep real life tensions separate from the show.  Add gangsters and gamblers and you have a classic musical comedy!

The Lion King (1994)
Directors: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 89 min
A very loose adaptation of Hamlet.  Young Simba looks forward to one day being King of the Pridelands.  But when his uncle Scar and a pack of vicious hyenas murder his father, Simba feels responsible and flees into the jungle.  After the Pridelands fall into ruin, Simba must return to face his uncle and take his rightful place as King.  (Lion King 2 = Romeo and Juliet)

Looking for Richard (1996)
Director: Al Pacino
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 112 min
A documentary about Al Pacino’s quest to understand the character of Richard III. Performances of scenes from the play are interwoven with discussions of the text, its history, and possible interpretations of the play–all of which give the Shakespearean scenes more life and meaning.

A Midwinter’s Tale (1995–UK title: In the Bleak Midwinter)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 99 min
A story about a troupe of actors putting on a production of Hamlet. The main character (Joe) makes a parallel emotional journey with the character of Hamlet, struggling to find meaning in his life and questioning whether it is better to be or not to be.  The story is laced with witty and slapstick humor that make for a fun and thought-provoking film.

Ran (1985)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 162 min
Language: Japanese
A Japanese interpretation of King Lear.  An old lord decides to turn over control of his conquered lands to his three sons.  When the youngest son predicts the treachery of his older brothers, his father banishes him for disrespecting his authority.  The two older brothers turn against their father and one another and a bloodbath ensues.  The film is rated R for extreme violence.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990)
Director: Tom Stoppard
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 117 min
An existential comedy based on the story of Hamlet from the perspective of two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Director: John Madden
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 123 min
Will Shakespeare has lost his inspiration, and theater owners are hounding him for a new play.  But when he meets Viola De Lesseps, a noblewoman who has disguised herself as a boy in order to pursue a career in the theater, he suddenly finds love and the inspiration for a new comedy–Romeo and Juliet.  The course of Will’s affair with Viola shapes his composition of the new play.  Writers Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman use their detailed knowledge of the texts and textual history of Shakespeare’s plays to infuse the screenplay with incredibly clever and often subtle jokes.  (The film has been criticized for its anachronisms, but most of them are intentional errors for comedic purposes.) But even without a detailed knowledge of Shakespeare’s works, the film is a fun romantic comedy.

Theater of Blood (1973)
Director: Douglas Hickox
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 104 min
A very dark comedy, starring Vincent Price.  A has-been actor fakes his own death, then proceeds to murder all of his critics in the style of Shakespearean death scenes.

Throne of Blood (1957)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (the MPAA began rating films in 1968)
Running Time: 110 min
Language: Japanese
A Japanese adaptation of Macbeth.  After hearing a prophecy that he will one day become Emperor, a ruthless lord and his ambitious wife set out to fulfill the prophecy by any means necessary.  As the title suggests, the film is violent.

West Side Story (1961)
Directors: Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (the MPAA began rating films in 1968)
Running Time: 152 min
A musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.  In New York City, two teenagers from rival gangs fall in love and struggle to make their relationship work despite social, ethnic, and economic tensions.

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