Date: 2012
Posted by: TheGeekyBlonde
Cast: Rhiannon McGavin (narrator, Sockspeare, First Witch, Second Witch, Third Witch, Duncan, Captain, Ross, Macbeth, Banquo, Malcolm, Lady Macbeth, Messenger, Fleance, the Porter, Macduff, Donalbain, First Murderer, Second Murderer, Third Murderer, Lennox, Hecate, Gentlewoman, The Doctor, Siward, Seyton, Young Siward)
Credits: Not given
Duration: 14.03

Among the vast number of Shakespearean videos that now exist, so many of them doing the same thing and seldom very well, it is difficult to stand out – and still more difficult to establish a distinctive style. One filmmaker who has achieved this is Los Angeles-based Rhiannon McGavin, aka The Geeky Blonde. McGavin produces videos on subjects as diverse as poetry and skincare, and her playlist Condensed Shakespeare presents summaries of the plays in an inventive style all of her own.

McGavin’s videos give us the essential plot lines, with occasional snippets of Shakespeare’s own words. She is the sole performer, cutting between herself as one character and the next (entailing many bargain-basement costume changes, mostly hats), at the same time cutting between the matter in hand and her wry 21st-century perspective on the plays’ surface absurdities. The videos simultaneously mock and honour their subject. As each character is introduced there is a comic character description written alongside their name at the foot of the screen. These are videos with their own graphical as well as visual style.

The example here, Macbeth, is typical of the filmmaker’s invention. The story is presented as a Hallowe’en treat, with McGavin narrating the story (dressed as the ghost of herself) at the encouragement of her sidekick sock puppet Sockspeare. She then plays twenty-five characters from the play, rapidly cutting from one to the next, all shot in her house and garden in a style that looks charmingly home-made yet clearly involved meticulous preparation and not a little videomaking skill – a model exercise in how to produce Shakespeare out of next to nothing.

McGavin has made similar videos for The Merchant of Venice, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors and Titus Andronicus, between 2011-2013. She does not repeat herself; while keeping to her distinctive style, she plays different variations on the model each time. It is a remarkable piece of sustained invention, auteurist indeed. She performs the Shakespeare that is in her head. It is as though she were reading through the play, with all of the other matters that would be going on in a young 21st Century persona’s mind, a mixture of popular culture references (for her YouTube audience to hook on to), puzzlement, delight, and social critique. Shakespeare’s plays are an archive of attitudes and assumptions a young woman from Los Angeles in 2012 is unlikely to share. The videos artfully square frustration with admiration, rationalising Shakespeare for a new age and a new audience.

The complete Condensed Shakespeare playlist

YouTube page for Macbeth
Condensed Shakespeare playlist
The Geeky Blonde website

Everything You Need To Know About The Tempest

Date: 2015
Posted by: Emma Banks
Cast: Emma Banks, Katie Douglass (voices)
Credits: Emma Banks (produced by, directed by, casting, credits, music)
Duration: 7.00 (including 1.20 of bank screen at the end)

Of all the many sub-genres of Shakespearean videos to be found on YouTube, among the most prevalent and popular are plot summaries. These are of two kinds: some make fun of the plays by cramming as much of the story as possible into a short space of time, usually a minute. Others have a more practical bent, which is to explain what is going on to the bewildered. Clearly there are quite a few young students turning to YouTube for some sort of clear guide to who is who and who does what to whom. It’s Lamb’s Tales for the 21st century.

Here’s a typical example, with an inviting title. Shakespeare’s narrative is explained through a series of crude cut-out figures placed over generic picture backgrounds., accompanied by some text and commentary. It does its job well enough, leavening the the practical business of explanation with some world-weary asides and some fun choices of cut-outs – Gollum as Caliban, in particular. Of course, it doesn’t tell you anything about what The Tempest signifies – but that’s another story.

Links: YouTube page

Ophelia drowns

Date: 2011 (2007)
Posted by: Amy L.
Cast: Amy L. (Ophelia)
Credits: Music: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 14
Duration: 6.10

Here’s a particularly strong example of the many Ophelia fan videos to be found on YouTube. That feels the best way to describe them: videos that recreate Ophelia’s death by drowning that appeals to filmmakers/performers who want to emulate her by imitation. In this example a young girl in a white dress wanders through a wooded landscape (in Northern Ontario), following the path of a river. Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ sonata plays. Gertrude’s lines about Ophelia’s last minutes are spoken over the images, as we see Ophelia stumble, cling for a while to a rock, then slip into the water and drown.

The video is interesting for exemplifying a romantic conception of Ophelia, one with which some identify quite intensely. It also interesting for its literalism. It doesn’t just show us the drowned Ophelia; it tries to show us how she drowned. In doing so it teeters on the edge of the absurd, but to judge from the comments that accompany the video some have found its visual exposition useful. The amateur status of the video, with its faltering technique, makes the Ophelia’s tumbling into a stream close to ridiculous, while at the same time convincing many in its audience through its sincerity. As one comment puts it, “That creek is BEAUTIFUL. I’d drown there. I mean, if I were to drown, that’s not a bad place to be.” The video exemplifies Ophelia as death wish – not something to be indulged in, but as a satisfying fantasy.

The video is dated as 2011, but it appears originally to have been published in 2007 with an introduction by the filmmaker/performer that has been removed from this version and is no longer available on YouTube.

Links: YouTube page

Macbeth Summary

Date: 2012
Posted by: benben8it
Cast: Ben Todd (commentary)
Credits: Bed Todd (artwork)
Duration: 3.41

Here’s a gem of a summary of Macbeth from cartoonist Ben Todd. It’s the usual quick run through the play’s highlights, turning tragedy into quickfire comedy, but making the plot clear for anyone struggling with iambic pentameter. It’s mostly done with simple static doodles, which seem artless at first sight but which have a peculiar charm about them. The black and white is occasionally interrupted by splashes of red blood, a cheesy photograph of Scotland, and great use of one of the most renowned of all YouTube videos, the five-second Dramatic Gopher, hilariously brought in as reaction to the news that Macduff was born by C-section. It’s fun to watch, but it also makes you think. Life, it tells us, is just a procession of exits and entrances, stabbings and survivals, in which there are only happy endings because we do not know what happens after those endings.

YouTube page
Ben Todd’s Pencil Poetry Tumblr site


Date: 2009
Posted by: Book MMS
Cast: Sofia Mesquita (Ophelia)
Credits: Made by Anaïs Dujardin, Chrystel Orsati, Mélodie Simon. Music by Julien Ruggiero, Amandine Glauser
Duration: 5.07

There is only one Ophelia, and she is drawn to water. Were this film and its protaognist given any other name we would probably see no Shakespearean connection at all, but with the name the film turns into a tantalising, mysterious gloss on Shakespeare’s character. A young woman, in distress at thoughts unspoken (there are no words), gets out of bed and wanders through a house littered with empty water bottles. She is desperate for water (what exactly for is not made clear) and eventually climbs into an empty bath, where she would appear to fall asleep. The camera tracks back, revealing a trail of the empty bottles.

This rough-edged film has a rawness to it, a sense of something personal that had to be expressed but equally needed to remain hidden (the comment function on Vimeo has been disabled for the video). It is also slightly absurd, so that the film teeters on the edge between sorrow and silliness. It is a striking example of the considerable number of Ophelia-themed videos out there, part of a larger online cult that had spread across forums, video and photo-sharing sites in which young women variously inhabit the character Ophelia. Alan R. Young’s essay and website Ophelia and Web 2.0 usefully analyses the phenomenon (including comments on the convenience of choosing bathtubs over rivers or ponds in which to recreate Ophelia’s end). He concludes:

If treated with something like the same intellectual respect now increasingly given to film and television appropriations, the Web 2.0 images and videos of Ophelia’s death will be seen, not as a mere interesting digression away from a Shakespeare-centric world, but as a valid contribution to an already large and ongoing commentary upon Ophelia and upon Gertrude’s speech describing her death.

Indeed this is no digression but rather an extension of Shakespeare’s art into our post-modern world (even if it is arguable whether the greater influence may be Millais rather than Shakespeare, as it is the image of the drowned Ophelia in Millais’ painting – midway between life and death, midway betwen air and water – that so often provides the template for these imaginings). As with online video Shakespeare overall, we see his plays spilling out naturally into the media of our times. If we are looking for Ophelia today, she will be as much on YouTube as she is on the stage or printed page.

Vimeo page
Ophelia and Web 2.0

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

Hamlet: Prince of Denmark

Date: 2007
Posted by: ghitchco
Cast: Hitchcock (Hamlet), Julie Jones (Death), Daniel Fachler (Claudius), Edgar Miles (Guard), Bret Walden (Guard), David Reimche (Ghost)
Credits: script: Hitchcock, Julie Jones, Daniel Fachler; cinematography: Daniel Fachler, Chris Gillen; editing: Hitchcock
Duration: 7.13

Here’s the sort of Shakespeare video that YouTube is there to encourage. The filmmaker has been driven to put together his vision of Hamlet (for his Shakespeare class), and with camera, a few friends, the obliging help of a local church and cemetery (in Augusta, Georgia), his CD collection and bags of enthusiasm, he puts together this distinctive take on the ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy. It is technically gauche and a bit silly in places, but it also shows real imagination and feeling for the play.

To begin with, the seven-minute film has a two-minute prologue, which in portentous dumbshow (and with ‘Carmina Burana’ blasting away over the top) shows Hamlet’s encounter with his dead father. The main title then follows, and we see that this is has been prelude to the main business, which is Hamlet delivering the soliloquy while dressed as a seminarian kneeling in church (the video is heavy on Catholic symbolism) and in then a cemetery trying to away from Death. And this is where the imaginative novelty comes in, because Death is a visible figure, female and dressed in white with white face mask. Death shares the words of the soliloquy, acting either as a prompter (“to be” says Hamlet; “or not to be” says Death) or as a voice in Hamlet’s mind, expressing the thoughts that he would rather not say. In the final line Death speaks the words, but it is Hamlet’s lips that mouth them.

It’s an intelligent conceit, thought out visually, and earnestly executed.

YouTube page
A droll teaser trailer for the Hamlet video