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8 Pop Culture Clips That Prove Shakespeare Is The Coolest Thing Ever

"Coriolanus": as if more proof of Shakespeare's timelessness was needed...

As a follow-up to yesterday’s DVD release and giveaway of Coriolanus, here’s a potpourri of Shakespeare-inspired clips to share with students—both those who are already into the playwright and those who are wary. And yes, though a collection of clips can always be fun, the media-related pedagogy here is not as random or opportunistic as it might seem. Well, okay, maybe it is. But I should still point out that when contrasted with adaptations of novels or other works of literature, the Bard’s plays are arguably a better fit for the big (or small) screen—they were meant to be performed, not just read silently to oneself.

One of the wonderful things about the recent Coriolanus is how it connects that drama-based, performative core of the play (again, it boasts several standout acting turns) to both contemporary conceptions of media and contemporary themes. The former is evident in the role of the news media in the title character’s rise and fall, the latter in the resonance of its focus on the function of the military mindset during peacetime as well as its prescient OWS-style social protests. Additional cultural relevance in terms of today’s media landscape is presented in the below clip of director-star Ralph Fiennes as he discusses “onscreen death” in the real world (e.g., when tyrants fall or assassinations occur). Oh, and I guess technically there are some spoilers here and in the other clips, but then again, this is Shakespeare, so I’m going to assume that most readers are quite familiar with the plots involved.

Okay, so here are several more curated clips from across pop culture that demonstrate Shakespeare’s enduring appeal. None of these are, strictly speaking, straight-ahead adaptations of Shakespeare texts, which is intentional. If I went that route, I’d have to include a couple of titles mentioned yesterday, plus several Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier films, and… well, it’s a long list. Instead, the goal here is to show the incredibly wide range in genre, tone, and general artistry to which the plays lend themselves.

10 Things I Hate About You

One of the most infectious scenes in a teen rom-com ever. Oh, and if you’re unfamiliar with this film, it’s a 1999 take on The Taming of the Shrew that starred the still-sorely-missed Heath Ledger. (A decade later it saw new life as a TV series on the ABC Family channel.)


Akira Kurosawa’s version of King Lear (he had previously adapted Macbeth as Throne of Blood) is one of the most spectacular and haunting Shakespeare-inspired works ever. I wish I could find the specific clip where the castle (specially constructed for the film) is burned to the ground, but the trailer will have to suffice. The music is added from a different source but I think it fits in more ways than one.

Forbidden Planet

The idea of a science-fiction take on The Tempest is both obvious and ingenious at the same time. If you’ve never seen this 1956 classic, please seek it out. Among its highlights is this one-sided battle between the marooned space travelers (led by Leslie Nielsen) and the “Id” monster. (I’m not sure why there are subtitles here but they don’t detract from the suspense and wonder in this scene.)

Macbeth: A Horror Film

Who says you need dialogue for Shakespeare? Directed by Liz Tabish, and set to music by Radiohead, this short film is perfect for examining both the psychology and symbolism of the source play. And who knows—maybe its emphasis on creativity over budget will inspire some young filmmakers for whom you screen it.

To Be or Not To Be

Jack Benny and Carole Lombard star in arguably one of the funniest “classic Hollywood” farces of all time. Granted, yes, this clip is the most tangential of all the clips to its actual source text, but I love how Benny’s wearing his Hamlet garb underscores the irony of the incongruously light death-themed banter.

West Side Story

This is the famous opening to my personal favorite of all the cinematic updates of Romeo and Juliet.  What young fans of dance might not realize is how it revolutionized movie musicals by being shot on location and in a “naturalistic” way—even though it’s basically a ballet. The combination of Bernstein’s score, Wise’s direction, and Robbins’ choreography still sends off sparks of aesthetic brilliance. Again, who needs dialogue?

The Histories  via the Reduced Shakespeare Company

This clip gets a little naughty toward the end, but the first half, which presents the “Histories” as a game of American football game, is inspired. I was lucky enough to catch these guys in London forever ago, and this bit definitely captures their energy and wit.

Patrick Stewart as Hamlet

There is nothing to say about this final clip. It is just too perfect in too many ways.


I could probably go on with such clips but you get the idea. In fact, if you have any suggestions for additions to this list, please be my guest… Thanks!

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  1. How about the great clip from “Kiss Me Kate” — the song “Brush up your Shakespeare” sung by Kennan Wynn and James Whitmore! It’s not really “today” but it is wonderful!