William Shakespeare’s bountiful 17th-century literary contributions have influenced and transformed the narrative and visual content of cinema, the art form most associated with the 20th century. From the silent cinema to contemporary filmmakers, moving image artists have interpreted Shakespeare’s work in countless original ways. Some directors remain faithful to iconic text, while others radically rechart the works with modern dress, language, or gender shifts. These diverse and audacious reassessments of Shakespeare’s plays demonstrate the continued relevance of his enduring works in the modern world. While classical actor/directors such as Laurence Olivier grip us with a traditional Hamlet (1948) filled with shadows and stripped of empathy, along comes Tom Stoppard, who elevates two minor characters from the same tragedy in his farce Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990). And when a contemporary director known for innovation, such as Julie Taymor, keeps close to the text of Titus Andronicus, she also manages dive deep into the fundamental absurdity and morbidity of this early Shakespearean tragedy.
In March 2016, 400 years after the Bard’s death, Sir Ian McKellen, the British Film Institute, and British Council commenced a yearlong celebration of Shakespeare’s influence on culture, education, and society called Shakespeare Lives. Organized in conjunction with this initiative, Breaking Bard includes films both faithful to and paradoxical with Shakespeare’s texts—a wide range of cinematic adherence and divergence from an array of influential filmmakers.
Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, in conjunction with the British Film Institute and the British Council.