Constructing Shakespeare on Screen

edited by Neil Béchervaise
Neil Béchervaise, Joe Belanger, Bill Davison, Jodie McFadden, Dennis Robinson,  Sarah Tainton and Ken Watson

First published 1999 as "Shakespeare on Celluloid" by St Clair Press: Sydney. Republished 2003 as "Constructing Shakespeare on Screen"

Published 2001 in Canada as "Teaching Shakespeare on Screen" by Pacific Educational Press: Vancouver


This text uses and expands reader response theory as a theoretical base. Essentially, this means that we believe that film viewers/readers bring a unique set of experiences and understandings to their reading of a film and construct the text by applying these understandings to the reading. To the extent that the readers' experience and knowledge is individual, each of their readings is unique.

But that is too haphazard for us as teachers. We want students to feel confident in coming to grips with the text as informed and critically resistant readers who 'know the rules of the game' of reading film as well as we expect them to know the 'rules' for reading literature. Otherwise, what is the point of being an educator?

As writers, we bring our own research of the films and a range of experience which is far more extensive than that of the average reader of a film-as-text. We also bring the language, the grammar and the ability to contextualise which we model for students and beginning film readers. Without this modelling, they have no agreed framework upon which to build and against which to confirm their own developing facility as film readers.

Shakespeare was a commercial playwright and a theatre owner. He was in business to get crowds through the doors. He developed a new tragedy and a new comedy each season. If things worked, he ran with them. He was commercial first. As such, we believe, he would have been a film producer/director in the 1990s - perhaps in the style of Kenneth Branagh with his ensemble approach to film-making (eg Peter and Friends), perhaps in the manner of Speilberg with his wide range of interests and universal issues. The performance, therefore, has to work for the audience. Film is the late 20th century medium. How should we/can we read it? This, for us, is what the book is about.

In this book we are exploring the range of translations of Shakespearean play-texts which have been made on film - we have focused on the readily available films and refer in passing to others we know but which may not be readily accessible.

To some extent, the approaches to the films are individualistic. We have endeavoured to meld them into a stylistically coherent structure where each chapter is written as a discussion with activities, observations and asides which extend and help to fill, for some students, what may otherwise remain as silences.

Neil E. Béchervaise
January, 1999

Table of Contents



Chapter 1 Reading film as text

Chapter 2 Macbeth - Neil Béchervaise


Chapter 3 Once upon a time

Chapter 4 Julius Caesar - Joe Belanger and Bill Davison

Chapter 5 Twelfth Night -  Ken Watson


Chapter 6 Where and when?

Chapter 7 The Taming of the Shrew - Neil Béchervaise

Chapter 8 Othello - Dennis Robinson


Chapter 9 ... and then, and then ...

Chapter 10 Richard III - Ken Watson

Chapter 11 King Lear - Joe Belanger


Chapter 12 But what happened in the end?

Chapter 13 Hamlet - Dennis Robinson

Chapter 14 Romeo and Juliet -Neil Béchervaise


Chapter 15 The canon in context

Chapter 16 Much Ado About Nothing- Neil Bechervaise & Dennis Pobinson

Chapter 17 A Midsummer Night's Dream - Dennis Robinson

Chapter 18 Henry V - Sara Tainton & Jodie McFadden


A. Chronology

B. Play- Text Dates