King John Rap

Date: 2009
Posted by: Tventura1000
Cast: Not given
Credits: Music: Wild Cherry, ‘Play That Funky Music’
Duration: 2.57

OK, so maybe this isn’t the greatest Shakespeare rap video – and there are a great many of them out there – but how many people have thought to rap to King John? Featuring three American students playing John, Frenchman and the Pope (a bold introduction of someone merely referred to in the play), with Wild Cherry’s ‘Play That Funky Music’ the chosen track, they goof around, rap (dubbed), have a swordfight and dance. And you get a pithy summary of the play, which shows they know whereof they rap. There’s nothing to suggest that this is a student project (and who would be teaching King John?), so one has to assume that this was done out of sheer love of one of Shakespeare’s minor plays. Full marks for novelty and enthusiasm.

YouTube page

Behind the Stage

Date: 2013
Posted by: Donald Jordan
Cast: None
Credits: Animated by Donald Jordan
Duration: 1.27

A short but inspired work of imagination. Using a mixture of photographs and medieval woodcuts, the filmmaker has imagined a staging of The Tempest, with stormy waves, sinking ships and a whale, all framed by a theatre and shot in black-and-white. It’s a moment’s inspiration made real, where the static comes to life, and the illusory nature of the stage is made apparent through illusion. Brief, but you remember it afterwards.

YouTube page

Henry V 360

Date: 2015
Posted by: Royal Shakespeare Company
Cast: Alex Hassell (Henry V)
Credits: Original stage production directed by Gregory Doran
Duration: 2.20

Wherever there is technical innovation in the arts, Shakespeare soon follows. Soon enough, if some manufacturers have their way, we will all be wearing headsets to immerse ourselves wholly in virtual words, leaving flat screens and the distance between observer and observed behind forever. Well, may be not, but 360-degree videos are certainly a growth area, with YouTube now offering a section devoted solely to the form. You don’t have to have a headset to view them, but you do need to use the navigator on the screen or your mouse paid if you want to view the action to the front, back, top, sides or whatever.

And so you can explore all the angles available in this sample 360 video, courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the RSC and the Google Cultural Institute. Alex Hassell gives the ‘Once more unto the breech’ speech from Henry V on the empty stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon (staged by the RSC in 2015). He strides about vigorously to encourage us to follow him about the screen. We have to stay alert with the navigation, or we are in danger of losing him. Some curious feature of the 360 recording has made the actor look more like an video game version himself than an actual human being. Perhaps this is intentional.

It’s worth watching the video without touching the navigation tools at all. A pumped-up man in battle clothes strides towards, then beyond us. All we then see is an empty stage with some smoke billowing, while the man who strode past us shouts and breathes heavily out of sight, occasionally popping back into view as he gets more and more worked up, before disappearing again. Having said his piece he strides back into frame and exits the stage. It is an intriguing exercise in the absurd.

It is probably the first 360 Shakespeare video, and it certainly won’t be the last, though whether one will want to inhabit a full-length play in this way seems open to question. When they talk of horses, we will want to see them printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth, but that does not mean we will necessarily want to ride with them.

YouTube page
Royal Shakespeare Company at the Google Cultural Institute

Shakespeare, The Passionate Pilgrim

Date: 2015
Posted by: Hassan Jamal
Cast: Guy Killum
Credits: Homewood & Frankstown TV. Director/camera: Hassan; camera upload: Dr. D
Duration: 2.44

Hassan Jamal is a Los Angeles-based poet and playwright, who is the mind behind the L.A. Subway Shakespeare Project. This is a series of black-and-white videos featuring African-American performers and shot at metro stops around the city. The ‘Street Shakespeare’ genre of performances given in the raw on (usually) American streets is one of the most effective forms on online Shakespeare, and this series is no exception.

In this example, actor and double bass player Guy Killum takes a break from playing outside the World Stage Performance Gallery at Leimert Park. He leans knowingly toward the camera and gives us vivid renditions of Sonnets 138 (“When my love swears that she is made of truth”) and 144 (“Two loves I have, of comfort and despair”), in the versions as collected in the 1599 anthology The Passionate Pilgrim, before finishing off with some more bass lines.

Although the background noise is a distraction (albeit an integral part of street Shakespeare, effectively a necessary hazard), this is a first-rate video, with just the right degree of knowing address to the camera, sharing thoughts with the passer-by in the form of pointed poetry. A cooler Shakespeare performance you would hard-pressed to find.

Other videos in the series are The Merchant of Venice, Othello, another Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, King John and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Check them all out – they are smartly filmed and expertly performed. Some will be appearing on BardBox in due course.

YouTube page

macbeth ➳ he shall never vanquish’d be

Date: 2015
Posted by: lana cho
Cast: Matt Budoff (Macbeth), Carla Carvallo (Witch 2), Lano Cho (Hecate + Apparition 2), Guy Gideoni (Lennox + Banquo’s Ghost), Siddhant Jain (Apparition 3), Emily Kravnak (Apparition 1), Serena Lantz (Witch 1), Chloe Lee (Witch 3)
Credits: Production company: The Very Large Acting Co. Editor: Lana Cho; make-up artists: Aditi Bhatt, Danielle Mullins; cinematography: Siddhant Jain; coloring: kindon18; composer: Michael Suby (Vampire Diaries score)
Duration: 6.33

Here is Macbeth from the Twilight generation. A group of young Americans re-enact Macbeth meeting the witches and seeing the apparitions (from Act 4 Scene 1) in a ferny wood, with the help of dark make-up, drained colouring effects (highlighting the red of Macbeth’s kilt), distorted voices, a widescreen image and a heavy overlaying of the music from The Vampire Diaries. Though the acting tends towards the wooden, good use of made of the setting and the opportunity for different camera angles. Chiefly it brings out the modern Gothic in Shakespeare and shows how the plays survive because they can be re-imagined to the temper of the times.

YouTube page

Shakespeare’s The Tempest Animation

Shakespeare’s The Tempest Animation from matthewkilford on Vimeo.

Date: 2013
Posted by: matthewkilford
Cast: Year 6 pupils from Bloxham Primary School
Credits: Made by Bloxham Primary School; Animation Station: Matt Kilford, Emily Horler. Special thanks to Mrs Verinder, Mrs Way, Mrs Coles, Mrs Ralls, Mr Ingall
Duration: 10.28

This is an absolutely charming animated version of The Tempest made by Year 6 pupils ( ages 10-11) of Bloxham Primary School, Oxfordshire, with help from local arts organisation Animation Station. It tells the essential story, with snatches of the most familiar lines, using children’s drawings animated in a rudimentary but entirely effective manner. What gives the film its power is the use of the children’s voices to tell the story and voice the characters. They tell the story with enthusiasm and conviction. While with some schoolchildren’s online Shakespeare you sense the eagerness of the teacher but wonder about the pupils’ comprehension of what they are being asked to do, here it is clear that they were fully engaged in both play and project. It is a film to persuade anyone, of any age, of the play’s magical qualities. The applause at the end is a delightful idea, and entirely merited.

Vimeo page
Animation Station

Bob Dylan Sings Measure for Measure

Date: 2011
Posted by: BardfilmKJ
Cast: None
Credits: Singer/composer: Keith Jones
Duration: 5.03

As a Shakespearean who is also a lifelong Bob Dylan fan, it is difficult to express just how must joy this video has brought to me. With pitch-perfect Dylan intonation, Keith Jones sings and strums along to his summary of the plot of Measure for Measure, borrowing the tune of ‘Seven Curses’ (Dylan’s version of the traditional song ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’ which featured among his early repertoire). Some rudimentary but helpful illustrations guides us through the narrative, with some wordy extracts from the notes to the Arden edition to demonstrate that it is someone who knows the play only too well who singing to us.

This isn’t just a scholarly joke. ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’ is about a woman (a man in some versions) due to be hanged who pleads for her life but is let down by a succession of people until her true love at the end is able to save her. ‘Seven Curses’ changes to the protagonist from the victim to the victim’s daughter, who is seduced and betrayed by a judge who has her father executed. The themes of corruption and betrayal fit all too well with Shakespeare’s story, while use of the ballad reveals the folk narrative that may underpin the play. The connection might have worked even better had not the writer/composer felt an obligation to be true to Shakespeare and all the complications of his plot. It might have been better to make things simpler and stay true to where the song should lead you. But Shakespeare would surely have been proud of rhyming ‘Claudio’ with ‘bozo’.

Keith Jones is a professor and English and Literature, and the person behind the excellent Bardfilm: The Shakespeare and Film Microblog. Other videos of his have appeared on BardBox before now, only to be taken down from YouTube for their re-use of published music. Here he is on safer ground, giving us his own music, in a unique blend of scholarship and goofiness.

YouTube page
Wikipedia entry on ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’
Bardfilm: The Shakespeare and Film Microblog has three posts on this subject: Shakespeare and Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Will Shakespeare, and Measure for Measure and Dylan and Shakespeare, Continued.

Nothing Much To Do

Date: 2014
Posted by: Nothing Much To Do
Cast: Harriett Maire (Beatrice Duke), Pearl Kennedy (Hero Duke), Jake McGregor (Benedick Hobbes), Matthew J. Smith (Claudio), Caleb Wells (Peter “Pedro” Donaldson), George Maunsell (John Donaldson), Holly Parkes (Georgia “Verges”), David Hannah (Hugh “Dogberry”), Tina Pan (Ursula), Jessia Stansfield (Margaret “Meg” Winter), Reuben Hudson (Stanley Balthazar Jones), John Burrows (Robert “Robbie” Borachio), Lucie Everett-Brown (Cora Petunia Anderson), Alex MacDonald (Leo Duke)
Credits: The Candle Wasters (Claris Jacobs, Elsie Bollinger, Minnie Grace, Sally Bollinger); sound director Jessi Golding
Duration: 83 videos

BardBox returns, after a four year hiatus, because there is so much good and interesting original Shakespeare production continuing to appear online, and the best of it needs documenting. A prime example is this delightful dramatised vlog the creation of a four-women creative tram from New Zealand called the Candle Wasters. Set in and around a New Zealand high school, it presents a modernised take on Much Ado About Nothing in the form of a vlog, with the various characters taking to the camera to share their thoughts with us.

Above is the first video in the series, in which Beatrice self-consciously introduces herself in standard vlog manner. In subsequent videos we follow the two stories of Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick. In keeping with the multiple-viewpoint approach, there are different YouTube channels for the different characters. Beatrice and Hero share Nothing Much To Do; Benedick (Ben) speaks to us through benaddicktion; and Ursula makes videos for us via the Watch Projects channel. There are also Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Tumblr pages, and so on

This is an exceptional undertaking, absolutely in tune with its times. The parts are winningly performed and the plot and themes of Shakespeare’s plays credibly translated to twenty-first century New Zealand. It makes the transition of the sexual politics of Shakespeare’s era to the preoccupations of modern times seem not too forced, and it finds space for both the light and the dark, even if it is happier when things are happy. Compared to the complicated and rather heavy-handed attempt by the Royal Shakespeare Company to embrace the social media era with its Midsummer Night’s Dreaming of 2013, this seems unforced, a logical way of retelling what Shakespeare has to say, through the media and method most likely to be appreciated by its target audience. It also ably demonstrates how online video can free us from the stage by breaking down the received narrative and exploring its constituent parts afresh. This is why Shakespeare belongs on YouTube.

The Candle Wasters have gone on to translate Love’s Labour’s Lost into Lovely Little Losers, and have promised their own take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, entitled Bright Summer Night, for later in 2016.

The Candle Wasters
Nothing Much To Do YouTube channel
benaddicktion YouTube channel
Watch Projects YouTube channel
Playlist of all episodes
Wikipedia series entry
Other Not Much To Do channels (Facebook, Twitter, Tumble, Instagram etc)