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TV Movies & Shows You Didn't Realize Were Based on Shakespeare

Updated March 30, 2021 966 votes 297 voters 22.2k views13 items

List RulesVote up the best shows with roots in the Bard's work.

Here’s to William Shakespeare. May the Bard never fade. TV shows based on or influenced by Shakespeare are perhaps more popular than ever in 2016. There’s something for everyone in these Bard-based series; tragedy, comedy, prophecy, love, a bit with a dog, and bloody quests for power. Which of your favorite shows draw from this rich well? House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, to name a few. 

There are the television series Shakespeare adaptations. Have you seen Romeo x Juliet? Juliet’s a vigilante, Neo Verona is a floating island, and there are dragons. If you want another take on the young lovers, try Star-Crossed where Romeo (Roman) is an alien and Juliet a human trying to bridge the gap between the two species. f you’re looking for more Shakespeare adaption TV shows, look no further than Slings and Arrows. The show based each season on a different play, while featuring a troupe of Shakespearean actors. And it’s helmed by Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall.   

There TV shows inspired by Shakespeare. Twelfth Night on the motocross track? Why not? A twin takes her injured brother’s place in competition as she faces off against a bunch of leather-clad villains who like to cross their arms as they smirk. It’s Motocrossed on the Disney Channel. 

Which of these TV shows based on Shakespeare resonate most for you? Vote it to the top.

SPOILERS throughout the list. 

  • Video: YouTube

    Shakespearian Inspiration: Hamlet   

    Hamlet's father is killed by his uncle. The uncle marries Hamlet's mother, and Hamlet schemes against them while getting ideas from his father, who communicates from beyond the grave. Jax Teller, of Sons of Anarchy, learns about his late father through journals (communication from beyond the grave) after Clay, his father's best friend, conspires to kill his father and becomes romantically involved with Gemma, Jax's mom. Gemma, however, is hewn from a different cloth than Hamlet's mother - she has far more in common with Lady Macbeth

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  • Video: YouTube

    Shakespearean Inspiration: Henry VI Parts 1-3, Richard III, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Hamlet.  
    George R.R. Martin seems to have been inspired by many of Shakespeare’s works for ASoIaF. The Starks war against the Lannisters mirrors the historical conflicts between the House of York and the House of Lancaster depicted in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Parts 1-3 and Richard III.  The author has explicitly mentioned Richard III as an influence. 
    Martin also drew upon the plays for character inspiration. Tyrion shares many qualities with Richard III, Robert Baratheon has roots in Falstaff, and Ned Stark could be Banquo from Macbeth. Those influences have made their way to screen with the Game of Thrones series. 

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    Shakespearean Inspiration: Macbeth   
    “Tuhmarruh, tuhmarruh, and tumarruh,” is how Frank Underwood would probably deliver the opening to Macbeth's famous soliloquy from Act 5. 

    So what does House of Cards take from Macbeth? Well, it's more or less the same story, except that Frank Underwood is a bad man from the start, whereas Macbeth loses his mind. Underwood breaks the fourth wall, as characters do in Shakespeare, and Claire Underwood is most obviously Lady Macbeth. Some have pointed out Frank's villainy makes him more akin to Richard III than Macbeth. Still, the story similarities are striking.

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    Shakespearean Inspiration: Macbeth   
    There are a lot of obvious similarities between Breaking Bad and Macbeth - at-first likable protagonists who become morally corrupt; female leads who exert tremendous negative 
    influence on the protagonist; the existential crisis of those caught in an increasingly chaotic and ethically bankrupt web of violence; the death and/or madness of nearly everyone. Some commentators go so far as to equate Walter White's cancer with the prophecy Macbeth receives from the witches

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