A quick guide for students and teachers to where to find filmed versions of Shakespeare’s plays on DVD and to stream.
The best way to enjoy a Shakespeare play is in the theatre, just as Shakespeare meant us to. However, a live production is not always at hand when you want or need it, so our second-best option is a filmed version of the play. Fortunately, between DVDs, digital downloads, online streaming and cinema broadcasts, there is more Shakespeare available on screen now than ever before. However, the problem that still remains for many students and teachers is where to find these films.
Feature films of Shakespeare’s plays are ever popular. Classic versions of the plays can still be found on DVD while new releases become widely available on digital download, DVD and steaming services soon after their cinema release. Many televised stage and studio productions of bygone years are still available on DVD. To find them you can search IMDb or consult the Wikipedia entry List of William Shakespeare screen adaptations. You will also find many YouTube videos listing favourite Shakespeare film adaptations such as can be found on the Shakespeare at the Movies playlist. Most of these DVDs will be available to buy online through major outlets such as Amazon, eBay or Fishpond. Some will also be available as digital downloads from outlets such as Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube Movies.
The major British theatre companies – Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre – regularly broadcast their productions to arthouse cinemas around the world. While tickets for these screenings may cost a little more than for a standard movie, it would still be a fraction of the cost of a live performance, and with the benefits of high-quality film production techniques, you get the best seat in the house. Many of these broadcast productions are subsequently made available on DVD and specialist streaming platforms.
Recently, theatre-based subscription streaming platforms have become available to the general public. The most recent of these is Marquee TV which features plays, opera and ballet. The best of British and some international productions can be seen on Digital Theatre, which has both a subscription service and pay-per-play. The North American equivalent is Broadway HD, which also hosts many classic American productions as well as contemporary British ones.
The National Theatre (NT at Home) and Shakespeare’s Globe (Globe Player) both have their own streaming platforms, which offer a subscription service or pay-per-play. Royal Shakespeare Company productions can be seen on Digital Theatre, Marquee TV and Broadway HD. Both Shakespeare’s Globe and the Royal Shakespeare Company re-issue their cinema broadcasts on DVD.
Canada’s Stratford Festival has its own website, Stratfest@Home, where you can sign up to a subscription service, stream its productions on a pay-per-play basis or purchase them on DVD and Blu-ray. Many of their productions can also be seen on Broadway HD.
For educators, Digital Theatre Plus, is a specialised subscription service exclusively available to schools which offers an even wider range of theatre productions than Digital Theatre plus a library of teaching resources.
Kanopy, a streaming service available for free through academic and municipal libraries, carries many performances of Shakespeare’s plays together with a range of documentaries.
In the 1970s and 1980s the BBC broadcast The Shakespeare Collection, an authoritative series of all of Shakespeare’s plays which are now available as digital downloads and on DVD, usually in sets of five or six videos, from all the usual outlets. The complete boxed set of 37 plays on DVD can be purchased for a reasonable price. The plays are also available to stream on Broadway HD.
In the early 1980s the American Shakespeare Video Society also produced studio productions of many of the plays. These are not as widely accessible as the BBC collection, but can be found on DVD. They are now all streaming on Kanopy while some have found their way onto YouTube.
You will also find many classic feature film, stage and studio versions of Shakespeare’s plays on YouTube. However, the quality of these uploads may be less than optimal and, as they might breach copyright, may be blocked in some territories. By far, the majority of Shakespeare productions you will find on YouTube are student and community productions. The performance and production qualities of these videos vary. A curated selection of these films and productions can be found on the Shakespeare’s Plays in Performance playlist.
As well as the playlists mentioned above, my YouTube channel Shakespeare on YouTube also includes other useful teaching materials.
© Pauline Montagna 2021