Shakespeare’s Influence on Other Artists

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Shakespeare influenced every generation of writers since his death and he continues to have an enormous impact on contemporary plays, movies, and poems. The Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) was so influenced by Shakespeare that he kept a bust of the Bard beside him while he wrote, hoping that Shakespeare would spark his creativity. Keats’s poems duplicate Shakespeare’s style and are full of Shakespearean imagery.

In a letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon, dated 10 May 1817, Keats writes:

I remember your saying that you had notions of a good Genius presiding over you. I have of late had the same thought – for things which I do half at Random are afterwards confirmed by my judgment in a dozen features of Propriety. Is it too daring to fancy Shakespeare this Presider?

It is interesting to note that George Bernard Shaw (1865-1950), who ridiculed those who worshipped Shakespeare (inventing an insulting term to denote the study of Shakespeare – bardolatry), secretly admired Shakespeare a great deal and often told his close friends that he thought the Bard had an unsurpassed command of the language.

Shakespeare’s influence is summarized nicely by Thomas Carlyle (albeit a bit over the top):

This King Shakespeare does he not shine, in crowned sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of rallying-signs; indestructible; really more valuable in that point of view than any other means or appliance whatsoever? We can fancy him as radiant aloft over all Nations of Englishmen, thousand years hence. From Paramatta, from New York, wheresoever, under what sort of Parish-Constable soever, English men and women are, they will say to one another, ‘Yes, this Shakespeare is ours; we produced him, we speak and think by him; we are of one blood and kind with him. (Thomas Carlyle, The Hero as Poet, 1841).

Many authors have used phrases from Shakespeare’s works as titles for their own novels. Here is a list of just a few:

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (The Tempest, 5.1)
  • The Dogs of War by Robert Stone (Julius Caesar 3.1)
  • The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck (Richard III, 1.1)
  • The Undiscovered Country by Auther Schnitzer (Hamlet, 3.1)
  • Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Macbeth, 4.1)
  • Bell, Book, and Candle by John van Druten (King John, 3.3)

In 1899, Sir Herbert Beerbohm-Tree produced King John, the first movie based on a play by Shakespeare, and since then there have been dozens of movies and adaptations loosely based on Shakespeare’s work, including:

  • The Boys from Syracuse (1940) – The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • Joe Macbeth (1953) – Macbeth
  • Kiss Me Kate (1953) – The Taming of the Shrew
  • Forbidden Planet (1956) – The Tempest
  • Throne of Blood (1957) – Macbeth
  • West Side Story (1961) – Romeo and Juliet
  • Chimes at Midnight (1967) – various plays
  • Ran (1985) – King Lear
  • My Own Private Idaho (1991) – 1 Henry IV
  • A Thousand Acres (1997) – King Lear
  • 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) – The Taming of the Shrew
  • Scotland, Pa. (2001) – Macbeth
  • O (2001) – Othello

The English group Mumford & Sons, nominated this year for two Grammy awards, borrowed the title of their debut album, Sigh No More from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.