Date: 2014
Posted by: SHAKES
Cast: Victoria Smith (Beatrice), Ellis Oswalt (Benedick), Anna Stone (Ophelia), Tim Childers (Hamlet), Cathy Koch (Juliet), Cody Sparks (Romeo)
Credits: Writer/Producer/Editor: Kathryn Orsmbee; Writer/Director: Destiny Soria; Production assistants: Rebecca Campbell, Katie Carroll; Marketing: Nicole Williams; Dramaturg: Clare Thomson
Duration: 12 episodes plus two extras

It is interesting to see what has been happening to the online Shakespeare video over the past four years. In 2012 I stopped adding to this site because I thought it had gone on long enough and there wasn’t much that was new that I thought I could add (I returned in 2016). In part the aim had been to trigger academic interest in an area of Shakespeare film production which wasn’t being considered at all, at least not with any seriousness. But gradually people were starting to take a serious interest, which culminated in the first book on the subject, Stephen O’Neill’s knowledgeable and stimulating Shakespeare and YouTube: New Media Forms of the Bard (2014). But what I hadn’t realised was round the corner, and which O’Neill missed, because the phenomenon was only just starting as his book went to press, was the Shakespeare web series.

It was the great success of the Emmy award-winning web series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012/13), with its setting of Pride and Prejudice in modern times told through the individual characters’ vlogs, with social media spin-offs, which sparked a small explosion in web series which treated other literary properties in the same way. Here was a sparkling way in which to use the special features of the online world to bring the classics to a new audience. It was also great fun to produce, as is clear from the spirit of enthusiasm that leaps out from the dozens of these kinds of web series that have now been produced.

Many of these series are adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. I’ve listed the main ones in a new Web Series category on the right-hand column of this site, and I’ll be posting something on most if not all of them, in time. I’ve already written about Not Much To Do and Lovely Little Losers, produced by the premier exponents of this new Shakespearean form. But coming close behind them, and with a slightly different apporach, there is SHAKES.

SHAKES is the creation of two Americans, Kathryn Ormsbee and Destiny Soria. It started out as a web series entitled Shakes that mashed up characters from Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet, featuring modern characters living in the fictional American town of Shakes. When they decided to move on to a second series, the first was renamed The Town’s the Thing, with the second given the name Weird Sisters.

The Town’s the Thing shows us the interaction of three couples: Beatrice and Benedick, Hamlet and Ophelia, and Romeo and Juliet. Unlike Nothing Much To Do, which follows the path set by the Lizzie Bennet Diaries in telling the story through direct addresses to the camera (vlogs), The Town’s the Thing is a more conventionally composed drama, without any confessional moments to us the audience. The six main protagonists are a group of friends with different backgrounds (Hamlet’s a lawyer, Benedick is a journalist, Beatrice runs an online news service, Ophelia works in a pharmacy, and so on), with traits that link them loosely to their characters as Shakespeare imagined them (though Juliet as sassy kleptomaniac seems more removed from the original conception than some).

The technique and performances are a little faltering at times (though you can see them learning as things go along), but the overall conceit is capably maintained. The story moves comfortably between comedy and tragedy (with sprinklings of Shakespeare’s words every now and then). The overall effect is to shed new light on Shakespeare’s appeal, as a creator of archetypes whose perennial qualities are proven by how adaptation into this very early 21st-century form seems so natural. A delight to the imagination.

Date: 2016
Posted by: SHAKES
Cast: Channing Estell (Fiona), Melanie White (Octavia), Beth Posey (Tabitha), Alec Beiswenger (Jack), Matthew D. Whaley (Hector), Garrett Bass (Mark)
Credits: Writer/Producer/Editor: Kathryn Orsmbee; Writer/Director: Destiny Soria; Production assistants: Rebecca Campbell, Katie Carroll; Marketing: Nicole Williams; Dramaturg: Clare Thomson
Duration: Ongoing

The follow-up series, Weird Sisters, is more confidently filmed and performed than the first series. It features a new cast and a change of style, with much more camera-consciousness, the central conceit being that the story is being filmed by social psychology student Imogen, with the characters providing her with vlogs. It describes itself as a loose adaptation of Macbeth, focussing on three women roommates – a radio broadcaster, an artist and a law student, each of them residents in the town of Shakes – who gradually reveal that things are rather stranger than might first appear, as they admit to their connections with the supernatural. Having established that they are modern versions of the three witches, the connection with Macbeth rather fades away, which is a disappointment – and a missed opportunity. The series is ongoing, so maybe more connections with Macbeth will emerge. It would give the work more direction and purpose.

These web series productions represent a consideration commitment from amateur teams on a minimal budget, and are reinventing Shakespeare. That’s quite an achievement, and more of us should be taking note (sadly Weird Sisters has attracted few viewers so far). It’s just worth remembering that the more use you make of Shakespeare, the better the outcome is likely to be.

The Town’s the Thing play list
Weird Sisters play list
SHAKES website
SHAKES YouTube page
SHAKES Tumblr site

Hamlet – The Fall Remix

Date: 2008
Posted by: SteveR
Cast: Johnston Forbes-Robertson (Hamlet)
Credits: Edited by SteveR. Music: The Fall, ‘There’s a Ghost in My House’
Duration: 2.34

Shakespeare films cut to pop music are legion on YouTube, so one looks for something with a little more imagination than the usual matching of heartfelt scenes to maudlin ballads. This example is not all that adroitly constructed, but its bizarre juxtaposition of classical actor in silent Shakespeare with the Fall catches the attention.

The actor is Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, one of the greats of the English stage of his time, who at the end of his career chose to have his Drury Lane Company’s production of Hamlet immortalised by the cinematograph. Directed in 1913 by Hay Plumb for the Hepworth Manufacturing Company, and filmed at Walton-on-Thames studios and on location at Lulworth Cove (seen here), the feature length film – an hour-and-a-half long – sought to capture in amber a famous theatrical performance. It did that to a degree, with Forbes-Robertson showing sufficient signs of greatness in his sensitive reading of the part, for all that he was sixty at the time of filming. But film is never a simple reflection of reality. Hepworth’s Hamlet captured a moment of change, in which the plausibility of the theatre was challenged by the credibility of the screen. Much of this filmed Hamlet was absurd – illogical as narrative, creaking as performance – exposed by the camera that was supposedly mere servant to the greater art of theatre. Yet Forbes-Robertson transcends this – he gives a film performance, alert to the particular needs of the camera (if one makes allowance for some histrionics and the limited camera technique). We see what he is thinking, and believe it to be true, which is the key to cinema. It is a performance that has enough about it that is timeless, which can therefore bear screening today, and trial by mashup: though the few scenes here do not show the theatrical knight to his best advantage.

The music is post-punk band The Fall’s 1987 version of Holland, Dozier and Holland’s “There’s a Ghost in My House”, originally recorded by R. Dean Taylor in 1967. It’s a characteristic rendition of a catchy original, with Mark E. Smith’s flat, deadpan delivery offset by the punchy musical accompaniment. It is used here as jokey counterpoint to the creaky ghost scenes from the 1913 Hamlet. But what a marvellous cultural crossroads is revealed. An actor born in 1853, who achieved greatness in the late-Victorian theatre, was filmed in 1913 and preserved thereafter, married to music by the composers of so many 60s pop hits, specifically a song from 1967, reimagined in 1987, then mashed-up together in a video in 2008. The breadth of reference in a two-minute video is huge, and all in the service of a play from 1600. Art is eternal, so long as we are able to replay it.

Vimeo page
The full 1913 Hamlet can be seen on BFI Player (without music of any kind)

Hamlet – the music video

Date: 2008
Posted by: larryc56
Cast: Laurence Olivier (Hamlet) and cast of 1948 film
Credits: Edited and performed by Laurence Campling, song by Adam McNaughton
Duration: 4.53

Here’s a classic parody with a YouTube twist. Scottish folksinger Adam McNaughton’s chirpy song ‘Oor Hamlet’ takes us through the main plot points of Hamlet, gently mocking its absurdities until the final pay-off line, “If you think that was boring, you should see the bloody play”. Video editor Laurence Campling plays and sings the song, delivered in a folky style (without the original’s Scottishisms) reminiscent of Martin Carthy (who does in fact include this song in his repertoire), which he has edited to clips from Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film. The earnestness of Olivier’s film cries out for sending up, and the video achieves the clever trick of pleasing both those who have suffered Hamlet in the classrom and those who love their Shakespeare and find that satire only increases that love.

YouTube page
Adam McNaugthon’s lyrics to Oor Hamlet
Adam McNaughton on Wikipedia
Laurence Campling’s website


Date: 2009
Posted by: lavamatic
Cast: not visible
Credits: Made by Jeffrey Weeter
Duration: 5.14

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, but it’s different and quite hypnotic. The filmmaker (Chicago-based intermedia artist and audio engineer Jeffrey Weeter) has taken sequences from the 1910 Italian silent film Re Lear (King Lear), and then zoomed in on action from the edges of the frame only, so that all you see are feet and the hems of cloaks. The mysterious action is interspersed with titles that read ‘something selfish’, ‘something similar’, ‘something scandalous’ etc., while fitful pieces of music play over the top. It is something rich and strange. Weeter tells us:

“Lear” is a different look. It focuses the information analyzed in the periphery. A narrative unfolds as threads of content are connected and pattern is established. Where there is compression there is also expansion. It is looking at you, vast-expanse-of-art-and-technology-across-history.

Well, I’m not sure that any narrative unfolds at all, still less that compression means expansion. But the sheer elusive of the exercise exerts a real fascination, and it shows how interesting Shakespeare can become in a filmmaker’s hands when they do not feel compelled to tell a story.

Vimeo page
Jeffrey Weeter

Me Vs. You

Date: 2006
Posted by: BuddhaRhubarb
Credits: Created by Joe Boyce Burgess, for Blind Hill Pictures
Cast: Emil Jannings (Othello), Ica von Lenkeffy (Desdemona)
Duration: 1.26

A strange, borderline disturbing, mashup of the smothering scene Dimitri Buchowetzki’s 1922 silent film Othello with loops of music from an unnamed ‘garage band’ and sounds from the horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What is it meant to signify? Perhaps it is best not to think about that too deeply. Its creator, Joe Boyce Burgess, has created other such bizarre juxtapositions of film and alien sound, though only this one with a Shakespearean touch.

YouTube page

Mercutio’s Queen Mab Speech RE-DUBBED

Date: 2008
Posted by: cebergman324
Credits: Created by cebergman324
Cast: prongs2u/Eric Idle (Mercutio/Mr Smoke-Too-Much), Michael Palin (Mr Bounder of Adventure)
Duration: 3.11

A stage production of Romeo and Juliet in which Mercutio’s ‘Queen Mab’ speech (Act 1 Scene 4) is cheekily replaced on the soundtrack by Eric Idle’s obnoxious tourist in the ‘Travel agent/Watney’s Red Barrel’ sketch from Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, a sketch originally performed on the television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus (episode 31, tx. 16 November 1972).

YouTube page

Geto Boys/Macbeth Mashup

Date: 2007
Posted by: Scartol
Credits: Created by Scartol
Cast: Jon Finch (Macbeth), Francesca Annis (Lady Macbeth)
Duration: 5.13

A logical fusion of Macbeth with Gangsta rap, in this neatly-edited mashup of shots from Roman Polanski’s 1971 Macbeth (in widescreen), with Jon Finch as Macbeth and Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth, to the music of the Geto Boys’ ‘Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me’. There are numerous adroit matches between lyrics and action; note, for example, the timing of the lines (from the song) of ‘my hands are all bloody’.

YouTube page