A day like yesterday, 449 years ago, in a little town called Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare was born, thus changing the course of Literature and the English language.

shakespeare-in-love-98-04-gAlthough some may see Will nowadays as a bohemian who looked like Joseph Fiennes, it is always good to rediscover him and to spread his work, so that those who don’t know him that well can learn more about his plays and his sonnets.

With Shakespeare, you either know as little as “he said something like to be or not to be” or you love him and are able to recite some of his monologues by heart (like I do).

If you belong to that first group, I am going to recommend you some of his plays. Not the most famous, though, that would be too typical. No, I want to talk about the lesser known ones, the ones that you might have heard of, but you don’t really know what they are about.

THE TEMPEST

The basic plot of this play is that Prospero, Duke of Milan, is exiled living on a remote island with his daughter Miranda. When he finds out that his usurping brother is on a ship near the island, he creates a storm that lures the ship into the island.

THE TEMPESTThe play has some light points, and it is one of those that you don’t think you are going to like and then you end up reading it in less than an hour. A film version was made in 2010, and it starred Helen Mirren as a female version of the leading character, Prospera. And from today, Shakespeare’s Globe is staging the play.

 

CYMBELINE

Cymbeline - Posthumus and Imogen

Probably my favourite play out of the “main ones”, the story revolves around the King of Britain and his daughter Imogen. She is the sole heiress because her older brothers disappeared when they were kids. The play begins when Imogen has just married gentleman Posthumus Leonatus, a boy who grew up with her but her father doesn’t approve, since it means he would eventually be king. Cymbeline, influenced by his new wife, forces Posthumus to flee to Italy. There, he is led into believe Imogen might not be true to him, and the rest of the story deals with trust, betrayal and innocence.

A film version of this play is yet to be made, but there is a TV-movie made in 1982 that starred Helen Mirren (again) as Imogen. It is available on YouTube.

TITUS ANDRONICUS

This is the most violent play Shakespeare ever wrote. Its plot is gloomy and it leads to desolation and death (so it’s not very cheerful). The title character is proclaimed Roman Emperor by his brother. Titus comes back home after ten years fighting, and he brings back with him Queen Tamora, her lover and her three sons as prisoners, killing the eldest son as a punishment, and setting an expected revenge in the remaining members of the family.

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Meanwhile, Titus refuses to be the Emperor and wants to give it to one of the previous Emperor’s sons, Saturninus, also offering him his daughter Lavinia as his wife. The problem is, Lavinia is in love with Saturninus brother Bassianus. But that doesn’t matter because the rest of the play is a blood bath full of mutilations, assassinations and violence in general. It is quite captivating, though.

Julie Taymor, who also directed the movie version of The Tempest mentioned above, filmed a very surrealistic adaptation in 1999, with the great Anthony Hopkins in the title role and Jessica Lange as Tamora.

 

RECOMMENDED FILM ADAPTATIONS

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A classic, Romeo & Juliet. But not the Baz Luhrmann version: the Franco Zeffirelli one from 1968, with the amazing soundtrack by Nino Rota and the proper Renaissance settings. Just priceless, and it still looks as new as if it had been filmed yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: this is my favourite Shakespeare comedy, and the 1999 version is nice, lively, and it has a wonderful cast, with names like Christian Bale, Kevin Kline, Rupert Everett, David Strathairn or Michelle Pfeiffer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0ILRvrBtMw

The Hollow Crown: this is not really a film adaptation but a TV miniseries that were broadcast last year on BBC Two. Produced by director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall), it featured Richard II (starring Ben Whishaw), Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2 (with Jeremy Irons as the king and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal) and Henry V (starring Hiddleston as the already proclaimed king). The locations are stunning, and so are the performances.

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Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.