Shakespeare in the war of the cinema against the theatre

When in the late 1920s the movies became talkies, that is sound films, the cinema had to confront itself with the theatre: now films too included words and dialogue. It was the beginning of a war waged by the film industry, Hollywood in the first place, against the theatre. Inevitably, in the English-speaking world the conflict turned around Shakespeare, the greatest playwright of all times. Could the cinema give the public the stories of the Bard as well as the stage had done and continued to do? Or maybe even better? Hollywood clearly thought so, in 1949 awarding Laurence Olivier’s film Hamlet the Oscar for best picture, an unprecedented honour for a Shakespeare film. Throughout the 20th century, Hollywood continued to assimilate Shakespeare’s stories in ways that changed forever the art and industry of narration.  An interesting case in point is Julius Caesar (1953, starring Marlon Brando as Mark Antony), promoted as 100% Shakespeare in 100% Hollywood. A few years later, West Side Story (1961) moved Romeo and Juliet to Manhattan without using a single word of the play but keeping its structure nearly unchanged. Shakespeare, by then, was in the DNA of the cinema.



Arturo Cattaneo è Professore Ordinario di Letteratura Inglese presso l'Università Cattolica di Milano. Ha pubblicato libri e saggi in italiano e in inglese. Tra i libri, un lungo saggio creativo, Shakespeare e l'amore (Einaudi, Torino 2019). È autore di A Short History of English Literature (Mondadori, Milano 2019), e di una serie di storie antologiche della letteratura inglese per le scuole superiori (Literary Journeys - Connecting ideas l’ultima, edita da Signorelli, Milano). Ha pubblicato due romanzi: Ci vediamo a settembre (2010, Sedizioni) e La notte inglese (2012, Mondadori).



Laura Cavaleri - Responsabile Area Lingue Mondadori Education