Action Bill

Date: 2014
Posted: AMAA Productions
Cast: Kent Pool (William Shatner, Patrick Stewart), Kenneth Haney (William Shakespeare)
Credits: AMAA Productions. Producers: Dustin Butler, Rachel James; Director: Gareth Witte; Writers: Gareth Witte, Kenneth Haney, Dustin Butler, Rachel James; Animation: Kenneth Haney, Gareth Witte; Sound design: Gareth Witte; VFX: Gareth Witte; Editor: Gareth Witter; Cinematography: Gareth Witte; Music: Nick Longoria;
Duration: 5.07

William Shakespeare is seated at home in Elizabethan England, struggling with writer’s block (literally expressed in this Lego film as a block of Lego) when his peaceful Stratford existence is rudely interrupted by the appearance of a time-travelling, angry William Shatner in a giant robot. Who will save the Bard from impending annihilation? Well, Patrick Stewart, of course, though Bill himself proves himself more than willing to take on a robot adversary, and to derive inspiration from the consequences.

This is a particularly strong example of brickfilm animation, which won first prize at the Short Bricks short competition at Cine Bricks in 2014. Settings, camerawork, lighting, music and special effects are all of the highest order, and though the dialogue is a little unclear in places (I don’t think the real Shatner would recognise himself), the pace and inventive silliness prove the film to be a worthy winner.

Brickfilms, or Lego animations, thrive through cutting down our pretensions to size while simultaneously indulging them. What we elevate they miniaturise, yet their affectionate nature confirms that we were right to elevate the subject in the first place. They mirror the confused view we have of culture at this time. Shakespeare is brought down to size and lifted up at the same time – it is a badge of honour, after all, to be commemorated in Lego. If there’s a message to the film, it’s that to be indestructible is to be immortal. Shakespeare can take on all that the future can throw at him, and still survive.

Visual effects breakdown of Action Bill

YouTube page
AMAA Productions (with behind the scenes photos etc)

Dr Seuss VS Shakespeare. Epic Rap Battles of History #12

Date: 2011
Posted by: Nice Peter
Cast: George Watsky (William Shakespeare), Nice Peter [Peter Shukoff] (The Cat in the Hat), EpicLLOYD [Lloyd Ahlquist] (Things 1 and 2)
Credits: Beat: Edward Cayce; Sean Barlett: Editing and Illustration
Duration: 2.50

There doesn’t seem to be any easy way of producing a list of what are the most viewed Shakespeare videos on YouTube, but there’s no arguing over which is the most popular of all. Currently boasting 79,272,036 views, this brash jape brings together William Shakespeare and the author of The Cat in the Hat in the promised epic rapping battle. First William Shakespeare fires off some piquant insults (“I’ll put a slug between your shoulder blades / Then ask what light through yonder poser breaks?), then The Cat responds (Dr Seuss himself remains silent throughout) with the expected retorts (“you bore people to death / you leave a classroom looking like the end of Macbeth”). Shakespeare fires back with a spectacularly rapid rap, gaining the others’ respect, only for the Cat to fight back with Things 1 and 2 … So who wins? You decide.

Epic Rap Battles of History is a massively popular YouTube series, indeed one of the leading channels on the site. The brainchild of Peter Shukoff (‘Nice Peter’) and Lloyd Ahlquist (‘EpicLLOYD’), it pits together historical and cultural figures, some fictional and some real, in comic contents that strike a successful balance between goofy humour and credible rap. Indeed the music tracks themselves have been released as successful singles, which along with an accompanying live show hour help support the high quality of the video productions. Others in the series include Darth Vader vs. Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein vs. Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates, and Romeo and Juliet vs Bonnie and Clyde. The series began in 2010 and to date has reached five ‘seasons’, earning a number of Streamy awards along the way.

So what does this tells us about Shakespeare? He’s a guy in tights with a skull who uses weird words but must be honoured nonetheless. He strikes a peculiar balance between clown and sage, someone instantly recognisable yet never quite understood. It’s akin to the confusion that we feel when we look at the disappointing portraits of the man and try to square the balding bourgeois with our feelings of what a poet must look like within. He is pitted against Dr Seuss as one tongue-twister versus another, each playing with words for their own sake, each born rappers. It’s a video about mastery of language. It’s about respect for the man, no matter how he dresses.

There is – inevitably – a behind the scenes video as well.

Links: YouTube page
Epic Rap Battles of History site
Epic Rap Battles of History forum
Wikipedia entry on Epic Rap Battles of History

Shakespeare (“Shayla” by Blondie)

Date: 2010
Posted by: historyteachers
Cast: Not given
Credits: Not given
Duration: 3.18

History for Music Lovers is a YouTube channel put together by a couple of history teachers from Honolulu with the intention of making the teaching of history of fun. They take historical events and figures, and put them to re-worded versions of pop songs with appropriate vidoe to match. Goodness knows how it is resourced, but the results are great fun indeed: Leonardo Da Vinci and the Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’, Roman history told to ‘Mambo no. 5’, the French Revolution to Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’, Elizabeth I to The Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’, and – sure enough – William Shakespeare sung to a version of Blondie’s ‘Shayla’. It’s not one of the best of the series, and it doesn’t tell prospective students much beyond the titles of plays, but what the heck?

Also in the series there’s Marianne Faithfull’s version of ‘As Tears Go By’, rewritten to tell the story of the Battle of Agincourt, with scenes from Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V:

YouTube page

Hey, Shakespeare!

Date: 2004
Posted by: TheRealDanStrange
Credits: A Daniel Strange filme
Cast: Dan Strange (himself), Evanne Larsonne (‘Shakespeare’)
Duration: 2.14

Just how annoying might it have been, or might it be, to know the real William Shakespeare? Struggling writer Dan Strange finds out when he turns to Shakespeare for advice. “What percentage of the time would you say it was easy for you?” he asks. “I don’t know, like, 98, 99% per cent of the time” comes back the unwelcome reply. Never blotted out a line either.

Daniel Strange has only posted a few such mini-dramas centred on life’s frustrations, and ought to produce a few more. A droll vignette, with some strong language.

YouTube page

Crank that Shakespeare

Date: 2008
Posted by: zman15601
Credits: composer Jake Lehman, lyrics Bronson Domasky
Cast: Jake Lehman (singer, Hamlet, King Claudius, King Hamlet), Connor Downs (King Hamlet, Hamlet’s Friend, Ophelia, Gertrude, dancer), Jeffrey Moon (Horatio, crying spectator), Clayton Smoker (Shakespeare, Hamlet’s friend, dancer, backup singer)
Duration: 2.10

It is all too easy to sigh at yet another American middle school English project where the class has been encouraged to demonstrate that Shakespeare can be fun by producing a YouTube video. You may sigh even more at the all-too-obvious choice of rap, something whose novelty factor wore out years ago.

And yet, and yet. Look again. This is a terrific video. It displays such enthusiasm for the task in hand, which is to make a rap video out of the story of Hamlet. The lyrics are sharp, the editing is good, the music is strong, and the performances are goofy but dedicated to the cause. Care has been taken to make the individual scenes varied. In common with many such video spoofs, the titles are done in MTV-style, while the subtitles are helpful. Shakespeare himself turns up in the car for the chorus (“Hamlet here with my boy Shakespeare”) – he’s the one with a skull in his hand. It’s a fine English project that brings out such delight in recognising the vitality of the play.

YouTube page

Shakespeare does Sweet Home Alabama

Date: 2007
Posted by: billyharper11
Credits: Created by Billy Harper
Cast: Billy Harper (William Shakespeare)
Duration: 3.05

William Shakespeare, he likes nothing better when he’s relaxing at home with some friends to start singing songs and playing some air guitar. Here he invites us all to join in the party and sing along with Lynryd Skynryd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.

British comic performer Billy Harper has played Shakespeare in a variety of comedy music modes on YouTube, miming to songs with some skill. There’s Shakespeare rapping to Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’, Shakespeare doing his Barry White impression, and Shakespeare as Snoop Dogg. Irresistible stuff.

YouTube page

Shakespeare Biography with Eggs!

Date: 2007
Posted by: HarassedTofu
Credits: Directed, filmed and edited by Kimberley Durkin, for Harassed Tofu Productions
Cast: Eggs (voices by Kimberley Durkin)
Duration: 5.01

Rudimentary (to say the least) animation with eggs, telling us the story of Shakespeare’s Stratford home life, starting from the point where the young Shakespeare is taken to see a play and becomes besotted by the theatre. The film ends poignantly with the death of his son Hamnet (yolk is spilt), commemorated by words from King John (Act 3 Scene 4), ‘If that be true, I shall see my boy again’, while Carmina Buruna plays in the background. Cracking.

YouTube page

William Shakespeare

Date: 2006
Posted by: srowan
Credits: Created by Alex Mueller and Scott Rowan. A Row 1 Production
Cast: Scott Rowan (William Shakespeare), Jenna Johnson (Anne Hathaway), Callie Parks (Francis Bacon, Actress), Griffin Ransdell (Bully no. 1, Messenger), Alex Mueller (Bully no. 2, Actor), Bill Rowan (Papa Shakespeare), Sandy Rowan (School Teacher), random people (extras)
Duration: 11.33

We first encounter William Shakespeare in a modern day American small town setting. He is sitting on a bench, when a quill feather flutters down beside him. He tells his life story to a girl sitting on the next door bench, who initially ignores him. We learn that as a child he loved to read, and learned about his ancestor who fought in the Wars of the Roses (“I don’t know why anyone would want flowers that bad”). Encouraged by his sweetheart Anne Hathaway, William learns to write and write and write. He joins the Lord Chamberlain’s men acting troupe and marries Anne. Then his father dies, and William writes a play inspired by his father, which he will call Hamlet (named after his father’s favourite meal of ham omelettes). The girl on the bench advises him to use some words he had just uttered (“Alas, poor York peppermint…”) in his play. Her name is Francis [sic] Bacon.

This is a remarkably accomplished 11-minute amateur parody of Forest Gump, telling instead the life of William Shakespeare. The music from the film helps, and it’s not a difficult film to parody, but such care has gone into recrafting shots from the original and duplicating its tone. It doesn’t tell us much about Shakespeare, except maybe to hint that his life for us now is, much like Forest Gump’s, little more than a blank onto which we imprint our own expectations of a national figure.

YouTube page