The Ides of March

March 15 (the 75th day of the Roman calendar), famously marked as the “Ides of March” (a.k.a, the middle of March), was once best known as the date by which you had to settle your debts from the prior year (marking, as it did, the first full moon of the Roman new year). In 44 BC some serious debts were collected when a group of some 40 senators, including Marcus Junius Brutus (a.k.a, Quintus Caepio Brutus, a.k.a. “Et tu, Brute?”), assassinated Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate chambers. The Roman calendar is no more (the switch to the modern Gregorian calendar began in 1582[1]), but the Ides of March live on in popular culture thanks to William Shakespeare.

In Shakespeare’s aptly titled play, Julius Caesar (1599), Act I, Scene II opens with Caesar’s triumphant procession through Rome, marred by the foreshadowing of Caesar’s imminent death when the Soothsayer warns Caesar to “Beware the ides of March.”[2] (a warning which Caesar ignores, to his later regret).

All told, Shakespeare wrote some 37 plays from around 1589 to 1613.[3] According to the Guinness Book of Records, Shakespeare is the most-adapted author with 410 feature-length motion pictures produced based on his plays, with The Taming of the Shrew (1929) the first feature-length, sound adaptation (starring Mary Pickford as Kate and Douglas Fairbanks as Petruchio). The oldest surviving Shakespeare-based movie is 1899’s silent short King John (originally four minutes long, with only one minute surviving today). All told, IMDb lists well over 1,500 Shakespeare film, TV, and video game writing credits, quite impressive given that William died in 1616.[4]

With all this material to view, where does one start? Perhaps the best place is The Guardian’s list of the 20 best Shakespeare film (and one TV) adaptations. This list includes one silent film (1921’s Hamlet) along with films from 8 different countries spanning 3 different continents made over a period of 82 years. There are 16 different plays on the list, including 3 Hamlets[5] and 2 pairs of King Lears and Macbeths, spanning comedies, histories, and dramas, so there’s sure to be something for everyone.

[1] Greece was the last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar (in 1923), which caused a certain amount of confusion regarding the scheduling of the first modern Olympics in 1896. A number of countries continue to use older calendars for religious and cultural reasons (China marks certain dates according to the Chinese calendar while Israel uses the Jewish calendar for religious purposes), but all contemporary dates are expressed according to the Gregorian calendar, as adjusted over the years.

[2] Fun Fact: At the time, the Roman calendar was no longer in effect, having been replaced by the Julian calendar the year before, but “Beware the ides of March” sounds much more ominous than “Watch out for next Wednesday.” (Working backwards using a modern Gregorian calendar, March 15, 44bc was a Wednesday, though at the time it would have been a “B” day in Rome’s 8-day week, counted A through H.)

[3] The exact number is not known, due to plays lost to time and various questions regarding authorship. It’s also a little uncertain which play came first, though it’s generally believed to be one of the three parts of King Henry VI, written sometime between 1589–1591.

[4] Of uncertain causes. Perhaps syphilis. Perhaps murder. In a will dated March 25, just a month before his death, Shakespeare described himself as “in perfect health & memorie, God be praysed,” so it’s really anyone’s guess.

[5] Which makes sense, since it’s the most filmed of Shakespeare’s plays.

The 20 Best Shakespeare Adaptations

20 As You Like It UK 1992 10.5240/0061-1FD2-35E5-3BA7-C0F3-P
19 Julius Caesar US 1953 10.5240/138D-4BC9-E907-28D6-F3A3-9
18 Twelfth Night UK 1996 10.5240/169E-5ADF-56AF-3075-CF70-8
17 Angoor (The Comedy of Errors) IN 1982 10.5240/A288-FA2B-1B44-94C4-9E56-A
16 Titus (Titus Andronicus) US 1999 10.5240/F36E-AE79-B2D0-0892-492E-8
15 Othello UK 1989 10.5240/2F4E-2E2E-E3CB-A3BF-29AF-8
14 The Bad Sleep Well (Hamlet) Japan 1960 10.5240/77DF-5C44-E0CC-AAC9-578E-U
13 A Midsummer Night’s Dream US 1935 10.5240/160A-1783-A898-3126-CF86-O
12 Much Ado About Nothing UK 1993 10.5240/211F-3886-BD01-821B-3CFD-P
11 Korol Lir (King Lear) USSR 1971 10.5240/ACA4-DE8C-8376-534A-AF0C-H
10 Romeo + Juliet US 1996 10.5240/C6FE-F4A2-7AF9-21DA-A164-J
9 Hamlet DE 1921 10.5240/324C-042F-F69F-59F7-9A31-P
8 The Tempest UK 1979 10.5240/6623-EF68-4FCE-F1F0-7442-I
7 Richard III UK 1955 10.5240/81C5-1A2A-0775-3352-BC9F-T
6 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew) US 1999 10.5240/4AE6-7711-2E83-4455-677E-W
5 King Lear DK 1971 10.5240/5058-7720-4E92-7141-E22C-8
4 Maqbool (Macbeth) IN 2003 10.5240/7873-2639-F44F-7309-1F16-Z
3 Chimes at Midnight (Henry IV) CH 1966 10.5240/D5FC-B65C-B23F-7239-E828-0
2 Hamlet USSR 1964 10.5240/51F6-0856-DFFA-F837-6CB3-6
1 Throne of Blood (Macbeth) Japan 1957 10.5240/4BC6-CB13-6A25-9F06-2D4E-3