Marketing Shakespeare Films: From Tragedy to Biopic

  • Deborah Cartmell


In the sound era, the so-called heyday of film adaptations, Shakespeare and film became identified, as Louis B. Mayer famously declared, with Hollywood tragedy, or more precisely as box office poison.1 Indeed the so-called ‘Prestige’ productions of the film studios, United Artists’ Taming of the Shrew, directed by Sam Taylor, 1929, Warner Brothers’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle, 1935, MGM’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by George Cukor, 1936, and the British (Inter-Allied) adaptation, As You Like It, directed by Paul Czinner, 1936 (best known today for Laurence Olivier’s first appearance on screen in a Shakespeare film), were box office flops, in spite of their frantic and multi-angled marketing campaigns. Their only achievements at the time of their releases were dubious prestige for the film companies during a period in which Hollywood was besieged by complaints about the shallow, violent and lascivious content of the movies. This chapter considers the marketing of Shakespeare films in the early sound period, which, whilst failing to convince moviegoers of the cinematic qualities of the Shakespeare films that were being promoted, contained many of the ingredients contributing to the most financially successful Shakespeare film to date: John Madden’s biopic of 1998, Shakespeare in Love.


Film Adaptation Henry VIII Academy Award American Audience United Artist 
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  • Deborah Cartmell

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