Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Happy Birthday Laurence Olivier!

Happy Birthday Sir Laurence Olivier!

He is arguably the greatest actor of the 20th century, and undoubtedly the greatest interpreter of Shakespeare in the 20th century.

His career playing Shakespeare is extensive and fascinating. He started young, at age 9 playing Brutus at school.

Many of his films have endured, and he is still thrilling to watch. My personal favorite is Rebecca. How could you not love Alfred Hitchcock directing Olivier and Joan Fontaine?

But it’s his work with Shakespeare that is most interesting to me, especially as far as it concerns my articles here on this blog and my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice.

I took a course in film history in college. We studied Olivier’s 1948 film version of Hamlet in great depth.

As Hamlet

I watched the film over a dozen times for that college course. It is a fantastic film, and very engrossing. It had a great effect on me, and I have enjoyed watching it over the years.

Every time I watched it I tried to find answers to the play within the film, and the dialogue. I thought if I studied it closely enough that I would discover some great deeper insight into the play, and figure out what it all really meant.

Even then, I thought I could figure out Shakespeare if I only paid closer attention to a performance like Olivier’s. 

I can only imagine what kind of impact it had when it was first released. Not only did Olivier direct the film, he played the part of Hamlet, but he won the Oscar for Best Actor and the Best Picture Academy Award! 

He is still the only actor to win an Oscar for a Shakespearean role.

He was also the first person to direct themselves to an Oscar -- a record which lasted until 1998.

The film also won the BAFTA for Best Film from any Source in 1949.

To many people at the time, and for many years after, this version of Hamlet was the definitive film version of Shakespeare’s play.

As much as I enjoy Olivier’s Richard III and Henry V, and the other Shakespeare work he did on stage and on film, it his film version of Hamlet that has meant the most to me.

If you have not seen his Shakespeare work on film, I urge you to watch them as soon as possible.

I remember reading about the way in which Olivier adapted Hamlet for the screen, and the criticism of the film at the time.

He cut out a lot of the text, and he cut some characters including Fortinbras, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Olivier also made the entire story much more of a psychological study of Hamlet. The film strongly suggests that Hamlet has a Freudian Oedipal complex in regard to his mother. 

Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis and his influence was very profound throughout the last century. It should come as no surprise then that filmmakers and actors were trying to understand the world, and re-interpreting classic texts such as Hamlet through the lens of Freud.

While Olivier may not have personally believed in Freud, he no doubt found Freud very useful in breathing new life into Shakespeare.

I think it was a very interesting creative choice. I think it works very well with the choice of black and white film. The entire movie has a very moody film noir feel to it, and it is arguably the most cinematic version of the play on screen.

Many years later, long after I graduated from college, I began my own work adapting Shakespeare, and I went back to look at Olivier’s Hamlet

I love the film and he is excellent.

But as wrote my versions of Shakespeare’s plays, instead of trying to find insights by looking deeper into Olivier’s psychological study of Hamlet, I looked at the history and the people in Shakespeare’s own life for answers.

I am very thankful that Olivier's work made me fall in love with Shakespeare in the first place.

I urge you all to see as much Shakespeare on stage and on screen as you can, whether it is Olivier, John Gielgud, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Taming of the Shrew, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, David Tennant, Tom Hiddleston, etc.

When there is a new production of his plays near you, please go see it.

But if you want to understand what Shakespeare’s plays meant in the context of his own life, and why he wrote them in the first place, I recommend you read this blog and my versions of the plays.

I hope you join me today in celebrating the memory of Sir Laurence Olivier -- and his remarkable contribution to the history of Shakespeare!


David B. Schajer

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