Best William Shakespeare Adaptations

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The Tragedy of Macbeth is out this week on AppleTV+ and it has us excited to hit play. To celebrate, our writers have pulled together their personal favorite Shakespeare adaptations across genre and medium. From 90s LA to animation and directly adapting the stage plays, we break down which Shakespeare adaptations have made a lasting impression on us. While most of our collaborative lists come with restrictions, this one was simple: Which of the existing Shakespeare adaptations are your favorite. Let’s jump into it.

Romeo + Juliet

Shakespeare Adaptations - But Why Tho

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Lurmann &

I had to have been barely 10 years old when I saw Romeo + Juliet. My cousin was obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio and my family would honestly rent any movie that John Leguizamo was in. And I didn’t get it – well, I did think the Capulets were Mexican because of the Chicano art inspiration that John Leguizamo‘s Tybalt embodied. Then I watched it again in high school for my AP English class and that’s when I really fell in love with the almost line for line adaptation of Romeo and Juliet but in the most 90s and LA way possible. Everything about this adaptation screams the period in which it was made, but what makes it timeless are the performances. And no, I’m not talking about a young DiCaprio screaming in grief in a field, I’m talking about John Leguizamo and Harold Perrineau as Tybalt and Mercutio respectively.  I have never seen iterations of these characters brought to life with more passion, more anger, or more sadness. Bringing Tybalt and Mercutio from the background to the foreground is why this film is not only a classic but the best Shakespeare adaptation in my book. Kate Sánchez

Sons of Anarchy

Shakespeare Adaptations - But Why Tho

Showrunner: Kurt Sutter

With the show frequently referred to as “Hamlet on a Harley” Sons of Anarchy manages to deliver on the core themes and concepts of one of Shakespeare’s most famous works, while managing to fully realize it in a modern day setting. Despite the show’s final couple of seasons going a bit off the rails, Shakespeare’s classic tale of family, betrayal, and murder is delivered in a fashion here that allows it to be what it was always meant to be, while simultaneously being something new as well that can appeal to fans of the classics, and those who find long siliques and flowering speeches out of style.  – Charles Hartford

Twelfth Night

Shakespeare Adaptations - But Why Tho (3)

Director: Trevor Nunn
Writer: Trevor Nunn

One of my all-time favorite Shakespeare plays that I read while I was an undergrad is “Twelfth Night.” Seeing this particular adaptation made the overall play more special due to the stellar cast and the chemistry they all had. Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley give extraordinary performances and play true to their parts in a play whose plot is already over-the-top. The scenery and costumes in this adaptation are aesthetically pleasing to look at and fit well within the already established world that the play takes place in. The music added makes every scene quite memorable and further adds to the comedic elements of the play. This is one adaptation that will always hold a special place for me. – Nicolas Soto

The Lion King (1994)

Director: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Writer: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton (screenplay)

In the pantheon of Disney animated films, The Lion King has always stood out to me. But something interesting that I learned while studying film in college is that its plot matches that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The son spurred on by the ghost of his father to take his rightful place as king, the power-hungry uncle who murdered his brother to gain the throne…a/ll of those elements are filtered through animation, with the African setting and animal kingdom adding a fresh new take. Even Hamlet’s compatriots Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are represented by Simba’s new friends Timon and Pumbaa. As one of the first films I ever watched in theaters with my Dad, The Lion King holds a special place in my heart. – Collier Jennings 

Hamlet (1996)

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Kenneth Branagh 

Is this my favorite performance of Hamlet? No, I’ve seen college productions I found more akin to how I’d interpret some line readings and emotion. But this rendition of the greatest play in English literature is the most star-studded, highly produced, emotionally moving screen adaptation I know. Hamlet’s surliness and Claudius’s bombastic overconfidence are even enough to make me forget about how uncomfortable the age gap is between Branagh and Kate Winslet. It was also the first iteration of the Bard’s work that I felt like I actually understood when I watched it in high school, which seals its soft spot in my Shakespear heart. – Jason Flatt

Picking only five Shakespeare adaptations is hard, but with only none of these picks being created in the last decade, these five have a staying power that needs to be looked at. Did your favorite adaptation of the Bard’s work make the list? Let us know on social media: @butwhythopc.