Shakesfilm: Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet*

On Monday, August 22nd, at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet,* the first film in our Shakespeare in Film Series for 2016-17. Film starts at 7:30pm, and the concession stand will be open.Free and open to the public!

For more information about the film, visit:

For information on upcoming films, visit:


This is actually Burton playing Hamlet in 1953, but the photo was too good to pass up. See:

Strode presents Love’s Labour’s Lost

The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents its final film of the 2014-15 Shakespeare Film Series, Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 Love’s Labour’s Lost. Free and open to the public.

The Facebook Event

LLL poster
Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

The King of Navarre and his three attendant lords make a pact to forswear women for three years so that they can steep themselves in academic pursuits. Almost immediately, the Princess of France arrives on a mission from her father, accompanied (of course) by three attendant ladies. We all know where this is going. Each man falls in love with a different woman but keeps his love a secret, until a scene when each man, thinking he’s alone, confesses his love by reading a sonnet out loud. Realizing what has happened, the men break their vows and agree to pursue their women, who do not allow themselves to be won so easily. Love’s Labour’s Lost contains many of the tropes of Shakespearean comedy: wooing lovers, mixed-up letters, bawdy puns, secondary characters who serve as foils and comic relief, and the promise of marriage. More than that, it is a play about language, containing more rhymed verses and new words than any other play in Shakespeare’s canon. It plays with poetic form and delights in linguistic excess while also mocking characters like the Spanish Don Armado, whose attempts at verbal brilliance fail miserably and hilariously. The play’s ending differs from other comedies by moving toward marriage but suspending it after news arrives that the King of France has died. The couples will separate for a year, as the women return to France and force the men to renew their vows of chastity. What happens next remains unknown: records survive of a Shakespeare play called Love’s Labour’s Won, but it has never been found.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kenneth Branagh (2000)

British actor-director Kenneth Branagh is generally credited with ushering in a new era of Shakespeare films in the 1990s. Beginning with 1989’s Henry V, Branagh envisioned himself as the Laurence Olivier of the modern era, but with a twist. Branagh became famous for his casting of both notable British stage and film actors (including himself, Emma Thomson, Adrian Lester, and Richard Briers) and Hollywood actors (including Robin Williams, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Alicia Silverstone, and Matthew Lillard), and his films strive to popularize Shakespeare’s plays for contemporary audiences. His Much Ado About Nothing (1993) earned critical and commercial success, while his “uncut” four-hour Hamlet (1996) was a star-studded tour de force. With Love’s Labour’s Lost, Branagh took a risk. How would he translate Shakespeare’s play about language and wordplay to the screen, when the play itself was rarely performed on stage before the mid-twentieth century and is one of Shakespeare’s least well known? The answer is a 1930s-era musical comedy that includes music by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter and showy song and dance numbers by its non-musical theater stars, with the exception of Nathan Lane, whose Costard reminds everyone that “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Critics and audiences were generally unimpressed and the film failed at the box office, but there is much to delight in here. Sure, the film is cheesy and imperfect, the musical numbers aren’t perfectly polished, and only about a third of Shakespeare’s words survive, but the film’s use of song and dance and the sheer absurdity of many scenes remind us of the joy and wordplay highlighted by the play. Beneath the razzle-dazzle, Branagh keeps the dark undercurrent of Shakespeare’s play with newsreels of European conflict and an ending that reminds viewers that loss is a part of life and that love must sometimes wait.

~Dr. Natalie Loper

Forbidden Planet, Wednesday!

Join us this Wednesday, March 11th at 7:30pm in Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre for Forbidden Planet!

Forbidden Planet copy

If you consider yourself a film or science fiction geek and haven’t seen Forbidden Planet before, consider this Wednesday your chance to get right with the world before your geek license is revoked. This movie sets up so many tropes that will come to be hated and adored in later films. For more, see Dr. Russ McConnell’s program notes below:


The Tempest

The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s final plays, is about Prospero, powerful magician and rightful Duke of Milan, and his teenage daughter Miranda, who have spent twelve years on an island after Prospero’s villainous brother Antonio (aided by Alonso, King of Naples) usurped his position and set him and Miranda adrift at sea. They are not the only inhabitants of the island: Prospero is served by the supernatural spirit Ariel and the monstrous, animalistic creature Caliban. When Prospero learns that his brother Antonio is passing close by the island on a ship, he conjures up a tempest to wreck the ship to bring Antonio and his retinue to the island. This retinue includes Prospero’s old and faithful servant Gonzalo, Antonio’s co-conspirator Alonso, and Alonso’s son Ferdinand. The shipwrecked characters explore the island, having various adventures and plotting intrigues, secretly observed by Prospero. Ferdinand meets and falls in love with Miranda, and her father (although secretly approving of the union) forces Ferdinand to become his servant to prove his worth and sincerity. In the end, Prospero brings all the main characters together in a scene of forgiveness and reconciliation, which culminates in Ferdinand and Miranda becoming engaged, Ariel being freed, and plans being made to return to Italy. Prospero resolves to bring an end to his magic: “I’ll break my staff…I’ll drown my book.” In this moment, Prospero is often read as representing Shakespeare himself, the playwright finally declaring an end to his glorious career as a master creator of theatrical magic.

In recent decades, The Tempest has often been read as a play about European colonialism, with Ariel and Caliban as colonized natives. Alternatively, Caliban’s physical appetites (both sexual and bibulous) have caused some readers to identify him less with the oppressed colonial subject than with the repressed Freudian id, opening up the possibility of psychoanalytic interpretations.

There have been many adaptations of The Tempest over the centuries, including The Tempest or, The Enchanted Island produced by John Dryden and William Davenant in 1670 and an operatic version by Thomas Shadwell in 1764. Shakespeare’s original text did not make a reappearance until William Charles Macready’s version of 1838. Adaptations continued in the 20th century, eventually making the move from stage to film.

Forbidden Planet

Fred M. Wilcox’s 1956 film adaptation Forbidden Planet is set on the extraterrestrial world of Altair IV, now colonized by humans, but formerly the home of the Krell, a now-extinct alien species. The film is the first to depict human beings travelling through interstellar space on a craft of their own making, and the first set entirely on another planet, in a remote solar system. The film’s equivalent of Shakespeare’s Ariel is Robby the Robot, and as a piece of technology rather than an enslaved spirit, he seems calculated to avoid inspiring any sense of guilt or distress in a 20th-century audience. He is a creation of the scientist Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who rules Altair IV, whose intelligence has been enhanced to a superhuman level by an encounter with ancient Krell technology, and whose knowledge is beyond the comprehension of the other characters, who consist of the crew of starship C-57D, led by Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen). Ultimately, however, their suspicion that no individual human being, however intelligent, can be trusted with such power proves to be vindicated.

Perhaps Forbidden Planet’s greatest innovation is its version of Caliban: a terrifying invisible beast that stalks the planet at night, hunting the crew of C-57D. The true origin of this monster is one of the film’s best surprises. Even though this origin depends upon a theory that Morbius describes as “obsolete,” it nevertheless neatly explains both the monster itself and the extinction of the ancient Krell, as well as evoking a major strand of critical interpretation of The Tempest.

The conclusion of the film departs somewhat from that of its source-text, having some elements of tragedy, and being less about forgiveness and reconciliation than about the essential fallibility of human nature (and, as it turns out, alien nature as well). While in The Tempest, Sycorax’s magic is characterized as full of “earthy and abhorred commands” in contrast to the good magic of Prospero, in Forbidden Planet, the super-science of Morbius turns out to encompass both halves of this dichotomy.

~ Dr. Russ McConnell

Shakespeare on Film, 2014-15

September 15_________Ten Things I Hate About You

November 4_________________The Bad Sleep Well

November 23___________Shakespeare Behind Bars

December 16_________________To Be Or Not to Be

January 19______________________West Side Story

February 16________________Deliver Us From Eva

March 11_____________________Forbidden Planet

April 27___________________Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sponsored by:

The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

All films are free and open to the public.

April 14th, Hudson Strode presents *Caesar Must Die*

April 14th, Hudson Strode present *Caesar Must Die*

Hudson Strode presents Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s *Caesar Must Die* (2012) on April 14th, 2014 at the Bama Theatre. The film is set in a prison in Rome, where inmates rehearse for a prison performance of Shakespeare’s *Julius Caesar.* The screening is free and open to the public.

IF presents Timon of Athens

@ The Greensboro Room of Bama Theatre

Pre-show music at 7:10pm

Staged reading at 7:30pm

Free Admission ($1 donations to the Bama Theatre Restoration Fund appreciated)

Come see IF’s staged reading of Shakespeare’s unfinished work *Timon of Athens*, a parable of generosity, greed, and the ancient Greek economy. More importantly, it also has some of the greatest insults found in Shakespeare, and performances by:

Timon (Russ Frost)

Apemantus (Steve Burch)

Alcibiades (Mark Hughes Cobb)

Flavius (Chris Malone)

Flaminius/Phrynia (Meredith Wiggins)

Servilius/Timandra (Hannah Bigham)

First Senator (David Ainsworth)

Caphis (Bryce Fry)

Lucullus (Susie Johnson)

Lucilius/Isidore’s Servant/Soldier (Joey Gamble)

Sempronius/Varro’s Servant (Benjamin Smith)

Special Thanks to:

UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, Dept. of English, Dept. of Theatre, and the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies

A Mid-October Night’s Dream

Demi-gods, fairies, kings and lovers from all those categories and more mingle, dance, fight, enchant and fall witlessly love in the Improbable Fictions’ staged reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Two performances will be given, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20 in the Bama Theatre’s Greensboro Room, and at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21 in the courtyard at Kentuck, 503 Main Avenue. The Friday performance will move indoors to the Kentuck Annex in case of inclement weather. Both are free and open to the public, though seating is limited. Pre-show music will begin at 7 p.m. each night. Call 205-310-5287, or visit the Facebook site Improbable Fictions: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — Staged Reading, for more.  $1 donations to the Bama Theatre Restoration Fund are appreciated.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies for numerous reasons. The thunderous relationship between jealous fairy king Oberon and his lover-queen Titania intensifies underlying tensions in the upcoming marriage of Duke Theseus, son of Poseidon and founder of Athens, to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, a marriage forged in political necessity but seeking grounds in love. Four younger lovers interchange, magically and comically, the rude mechanicals entertain with their good hearts and somewhat weak minds, and Puck, well, Puck becomes an adjectival form.

Theseus seeks to make peace between his friend Egeus and Egeus’ daughter Hermia, who doesn’t want to marry her father’s chosen heir, Demetrius. Hermia loves Lysander; they plan to marry. Demetrius wants Hermia, very likely for the dowry, and Egeus wants his daughter to either follow his wishes, or by Athenian law, hie her to a nunnery…or to death. Knowing that his future wife Hippolyta is watching, Theseus treads softly, but sticks to the law.

In frustration and fear, Hermia and Lysander bolt into the woods, followed closely by Demetrius and Helena, Hermia’s friend who is in love with — and has been loved by — Demetrius.

The Athenian forest is the domain of wild, magical beings. Oberon and Titania, their king and queen, feud over each others’ affairs, and a child that may have resulted. Oberon enchants his sleeping beloved to fall in love with the very next thing she sees, with the help of his wild child helper Puck.

The next thing she sees is an ass, in dual meanings of the word. Bottom is the loudest of a band of bad players, rough tradesmen (or rude mechanicals) rehearsing a play for the Duke’s upcoming nuptials. Puck transforms his braying by giving him the head of a jackass. Titania, following the compulsion from the flower’s juice dropped in her eyes, falls for the ass.

Puck, as instructed by Oberon, also enchants the Athenian to fall in love with Helena — but gets the wrong young man. The two who had pursued Hermia now want nothing to do with her, and Helena finds herself with more attention than she can bear.

Eventually, all’s well — as another play said — through love and magic and best intentions, which sometimes overrule logic and the letter of the law.


Sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, the UA English Dept., and the UA College of Arts and Sciences

IF’s September reading of Euripides’ Hecuba packed out the Greensboro Room at the Bama Theatre. And I’ve learned that UA’s APO is offering pledge points to students that attend IF events. And the reading was reviewed by The Dome. There’s nothing tragic about that!

Here are a few thoughts on the production from the director, Steve Burch, the cast list, and some rehearsal photos courtesy of Jason Pan.

Hecuba by Euripides

An Improbable Fictions staged reading

Sept. 22, 2011, Bama Theatre

Cast (in order of appearance):

Polydorus: Joey Gamble

Polymestor: Russell Frost

Hecuba: Deborah Parker

Coryphaeus: Karen Baker

Chorus #1 : Susie Johnson

Chorus #2 : Adella Smith

Chorus #3 : Phoebe Threatt

Chorus #4 : Amber Gibson

Polyxena: Natalie Hopper

Odysseus: Nic Helms

Talthybius: James Wesley Glass

Agamemnon: David Ainsworth

Soldier/Son: Tyler Spindler

Soldier/Son: Eric Marable, Jr.

Adaptor/Director: Steve Burch

Hecuba is a prisoner’s tragedy; if a modern analogy be permitted, a concentration camp play . . . . [It] is born out of contemporary experience; it is a bitterly human and darkly profound reflection of the ills of the Peloponnesian War . . . . Thucydides reflected upon the frightful demoralization and deprivation which the war had brought about in individual as well as in social and political life. Euripides, in his Hecuba, presents a similar indictment of this time; and, in its universal meaning, going beyond his time, of man’s insufficiency and cruelty.

As a prisoner’s tragedy, the Hecuba has three main aspects:

  1. the suffering of the enslaved women
  2. the characters of her masters and tormentors
  3. the effect which unbearable suffering has on her.

Here, in this last aspect, lies the real and truly terrible tragedy: Under the pressure of torture beyond endurance, the sufferer becomes as bestial as the tormentors. A most pitiable woman is transformed into a fiery-eyed dog . . . . We will learn [over the course of the play] what it means to be a prisoner . . . . The tragedy of Hecuba, the prisoner, ends in her moral destruction. The forces that destroy her are realistically presented and forever symbolized in Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Polymestor . . . . But who are those who represent human decency, or even greatness, in this play? Not the “kings” who hold the power; but a child who has not lived yet, a [messenger] and unnamed soldiers. They remain on the sidelines of the action, and have no influence on the course of events.


IF presents Euripides’ Hecuba

Improbable Fictions presents a staged reading of Hecuba, Euripides’ other great tragedy about Hecuba and the women of Troy, written before Trojan Women, and taking place about three days after the events of the second play. A timeless and terrifying tale of loss, betrayal, and revenge by a group of powerless, voiceless prisoners after the cataclysmic destruction of their city and way of life.

Thursday, September 22, 2011
The Greensboro Room at the Bama Theatre (directions)
7:30 pm
(pre-show music at 7:10)

Free Admission!  A $1 donation to the Bama Theatre Restoration Fund is recommended.

(Add to your Google calendar)

(Or RSVP to the Facebook event)

Improbable Fictions is sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, the University of Alabama English Department, and the University of Alabama College of Arts and Sciences.

IF: Fall lineup and casting call

I’m excited to announce that this semester Improbable Fictions is sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, the UA Dept. of English, and the UA College of Arts and Sciences.  That means that we’ll be able to hold all our readings this fall in the Greensboro Room of the Bama Theatre.  We’re also expanding our season to include the ancient Greeks as well as Shakespeare.  Our readings will be the following:

Euripides’ Hecuba
directed by Steve Burch (
Thursday, September 22, 7:30pm

Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream
directed by Mark Hughes Cobb (
Thursday, October 20, 7:30pm

Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens
directed by Nic Helms (
Thursday, December 1, 7:30pm

If you’re interested in picking up a script and reading for one of our events, please email the director of the show you’re interested in with your contact info, a brief theatrical bio, and any preferences as to part.  If we’re not familiar with your previous theatre work (or if you haven’t done any!), fret not: Improbable Fictions is always open to newcomers, and one of our directors can easily schedule an informal audition.  Rehearsals for each staged reading will be the Monday-Wednesday of the week of the performance.

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