Celebrating the “Bard of Avon’s” Birthday
By Alejandra Ortega
William Shakespeare is one of the most celebrated writers in history. While historians do have record of his baptism on April 26, there is no clear record of his birthday. It is only assumed that he would have been born three days prior. Not to mention the fact that Shakespeare fans like to have him come full circle, having been born and died on the same day. This is why many celebrate the writer on April 23.
As a Shakespeare fan myself, every year I celebrate by watching some of the best modern-made Shakespeare films and television specials with friends. Here are some of the better ones that will allow you to wish the best writer in history a happy birthday.
7. “Hamlet” (with David Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius)
If you’re looking for a classic Shakespeare tragedy, stay away from the Mel Gibson version of “Hamlet.” His portrayal will only make you want to reach into the screen and murder Hamlet yourself, well before the first act has finished. The best version of “Hamlet” is the one with David Tennant (“Doctor Who”) and Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”). Both are British actors who got their start with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. Tennant brings to Hamlet a sort of madness that makes you understand why he is behaving the way he is, rather than the “emo” portrayal as seen by Gibson. Not to mention, Tennant is of closer age to Hamlet. Whereas Gibson looks like an old, angsty man.
6. The Merchant of Venice (Al Pacino as Shylock)
Al Pacino is by far one of the more famous portrayals of the character of Shylock. “The Merchant of Venice” is already a problem play. It’s a comedy because it ends in marriage, but it is filled with anti-semetic themes. Pacino’s brings to the villain of Shylcok a human quality that makes the famous “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” monologue a timeless classic. This one is perfect if you want the full period costume and Shakespeare language.
5. Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branagh as Benedick and Emma Thompson as Beatrice)
Kenneth Branagh (“My Week With Marilyn”) has been called our generation’s Laurence Olivier, and it’s completely true. This man has done film adaptions and theater revivals of almost every Shakespeare play. He understands where to edit, and how to portray the scene. When he was married to Emma Thompson (“Harry Potter” series) they were a dynamic duo for some of the best leads. This is perhaps one of the most overdone Shakespeare comedy. Tennant later did one this past summer with Catherine Tate (“Doctor Who”, “The Office”), and there is another due this summer by Joss Whedon starring Alxis Denisof (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “How I Met Your Mother”) and Amy Acker (“Angel”, “Dollhouse”). But it’s still one to love.
4. “She’s the Man”
With “10 Things I Hate About You” came a wave of modern, everyday adaptions of Shakespeare. While some were great, such as “10 Things I Hate About You,” others were terrible, such as “O.” The comedy, “Twelfth Night” received one of these makeovers with Amanda Bynes (“Hairspray”) as Viola and Channing Tatum (“21 Jump Street”) as Duke Orsino (known as just Duke in the film). I was skeptical at first, but it proved to be pretty entertaining. If you’d rather not deal with all the thou and wherefore, “She’s the Man” is one to go to.
3. “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” (Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo and Claire Danes as Juliet)
Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”) is a visionary. True, the best classic “Romeo and Juliet” film is the one made by Franco Zeffirelli, but Luhrmann’s version makes the play a bit more relatable to a modern audience. It is a sad fact that Shakespeare has a reputation of being that old dude you’re forced to read in high school. It is also true that “Romeo and Juliet” is the most overdone tragedy, next to “Hamlet.” Luhrmann’s version manages to make it fresh again, replacing the swords with guns, and changing the nature of their suicides. The one thing all actors are told when they go to perform “Romeo in Juliet” is: make sure the audience doesn’t catch on to the fact this takes place in three days. Luhrmann does just that.
2. “The Shakespeare Code” “Doctor Who” season three episode
I always re-watch this one when it comes to Shakespeare’s birthday. The brilliant British science fiction television show that has been on since 1960 (with that minor hiatus between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors) took advantage of David Tennant’s Shakespeare background, and decided to set the Tenth Doctor’s first trip out with his new companion, Martha Jones, (Freema Agyeman) to go to visit Shakespeare. Three witches (or are they really witches?) are secretly pulling Shakespeare’s strings like a puppet to write “Loves Labours Won” (one of his two lost plays). The Doctor and Martha have one day to figure out what is happening and stop the witches from executing their plans of destruction of the Earth, and save William Shakespeare’s life and reputation. A benefit of this episode is you don’t need to have ever seen “Doctor Who” before. The entire point is to have fun with Shakespeare himself.
1. “10 Things I Hate About You”
The best Shakespeare modern adaption to date. No other play has been redone at such a brilliant level as ”The Taming of the Shrew” Starring Julia Stiles (“O”) as Katherine and Heath Ledger “(Batman: The Dark Knight”) as Petruchio (known as Patrick in the film). This is one film that I almost hate to admit I prefer over the Shakespeare play. “The Taming of the Shrew” focuses on Bianca and her many suitors, but her father has a rule that she is unable to accept any until after her elder sister is married. The play ends with Katherine being “broken” in a way, losing her wild spirit and finally submitting as a wife to Petruchio. “10 Things I Hate About You” gives it a light-hearted ending, drops one of the three suitors for Bianca and allows Katherine to make her own decision in being with Patrick willingly, rather than forced, as she is in the play.