It seems slightly odd at first for Shakespeare’s Globe to be emphasising the range of cinematic responses to Shakespeare’s works, while the live performers are preparing in their dressing rooms upstairs. But Professor Tony Howard’s approach to Shakespeare is so keen that his knowledge of film adaptations serves to illuminate the core elements of the play themselves. In drawing out what the films focus on, Howard reveals something profound about Shakespeare’s own methods.

In previous talks, Howard spoke on how King Lear has become a master metaphor for the late twentieth century, stunningly captured in the Soviet masterpiece of 1971, directed by Grigori Kozintsev. Howard also addressed the ongoing battle of the sexes explored in The Taming of the Shrew, a perennial theme that shows no sign of abating (for an all-female take on the play, see our current touring production).

Last night’s talk on A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a fascinating exploration of how directors are drawn to cinema to realise the full magical effects of this text, complete with enchanted forests and fairies that can creep into acorn cups. This conflicts with the communal imagining that is so central to how Elizabethan plays work, where the language conjures for the audience all the magic that is required.

By looking at a silent era version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and how smoothly it works without Shakespeare’s poetry, Howard illustrated just how well plotted the play is from its inception. And to see Bottom being played by both James Cagney (Max Reinhardt’s 1935 Hollywood version) and Benny Hill (ITV version from 1964) in one night was quite a treat.

Howard draws his examples from the broadest possible chronological and geographical ranges, drawing on the very earliest recordings to post-modern mash-ups, filmed on location from Southwark to the Sahara and everywhere in between.

Catch Professor Tony Howard’s next talk on Wednesday 24 July, this time exploring Macbeth. Book your tickets here.

To see our Shakespeare productions on the big screen visit the Globe on Screen website.


- Dr Derek Dunne