Shakespeare’s influence can be found in many aspects of American culture, from film adaptations to vegetable brands. It’s no wonder, then, that his stories and characters have often served as inspiration for television series—which in turn can influence interpretations of his plays. For example, Folger Theatre’s current production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (pictured above) draws from classic sitcoms of the late 60s and early 70s, and Tony Cisek’s set is heavily evocative of where “a man named Brady” (along with a bunch of other people) made his home.
To celebrate the connections between the Bard and the small screen during that groovy time, here are five classic episodes that pull from Shakespeare’s works with far-out results:
1. The Flintstones – Curtain Call in Bedrock
Aired: 18 February 1966
The first family of Bedrock gets theatrical when Wilma is put in charge of the PTA’s drama show: “Romeorock and Julietstone.” Though Fred quickly reveals himself to have a natural dramatic flair, he turns down the role of Romeorock and Barney is cast—only to prove to have no feel for the language. But the show must go on, and after some help from their alien friend Gazoo, light Rubble shenanigans, a surprise case of laryngitis, and some quick casting adjustments, their interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragic love story brings down the house…literally.
2. Gilligan’s Island – The Producer
Aired: 3 October 1966
Hollywood fever comes to the island when hit producer Harold Hecuba appears. Determined to impress him, the gang of castaways decides to put on a show with hopes that Ginger can get a part in one of his movies and they can hitch a ride off the island. With limited source material to choose from, they reject such dramatic classics as “Four-Masted Schooners I Have Known” and “The Carpenter’s Handbook” for a little-known-play called Hamlet. One problem? Hecuba is a musical producer. One can’t help but wonder if this might have helped inspire Rockabye Hamlet…
3. Star Trek: The Original Series—The Conscience of the King
Aired: 8 December 1966
Master thespian or mass murderer? Captain Kirk must make a decision when faced with the possibility that the leader of an interplanetary Shakespeare troupe may also have a side-gig as Kodos the Executioner, responsible for a massacre Kirk, Dr. Leighton, and Lt. Riley all witnessed years before. Displaying a Dane-like propensity for indecision, Kirk transports the troupe to their next destination while he decides what to do. Turns out, every time the troupe is in town another witness to Kodos’ crimes dies. The grisly pattern holds, but it’s not enough to stop an on-ship performance of Hamlet from going forward, during which time dramatic truths are revealed.
4. The Brady Bunch – Juliet is the Sun
Aired: 29 October 1971
Marcia, Marcia… Juliet? Cast as the lead in the junior high production of Romeo and Juliet, the eldest Brady sister suffers a crisis of confidence, convinced she only got the role because of her mother’s involvement in the play committee. Her family rallies around her with confidence-boosting ploys, but the inevitable happens and suddenly insecure Marcia transforms into a supreme diva, putting her involvement in the play in jeopardy. Regardless of Marcia’s acting talents, Maureen McCormick brings her A-game in this dramatic clip.
5. Happy Days – A Star is Bored
Aired: 5 December 1974
Richie and his baseball team are convinced new uniforms are the key to on-field success, but they need to make sure their charity production of Hamlet raises the necessary funds. Surprisingly, they can’t get Laurence Olivier to star, so they turn to the next best thing—The Fonz (even if “Hamlet was never that cool.”) Initially resisting the tights and the language, like so many before him Fonzie finds something in the text that speaks to him and delivers a surprisingly touching rumination on that age-old question of “To be or not to be.”
Video (reversed): https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7m8hqn
These are but a small selection of the TV episodes that owe a tip of the hat to Shakespeare, but there are many, many more. Have a favorite? Let us know in the comments!
If you just can’t get enough of classic TV with a Shakespeare twist, the Folger will be hosting a free staged reading of The Bardy Bunch on January 24. Set in the summer of 1974, this contemporary play pits Brady-against-Partridge in a blood-soaked Shakespeare spoof.
And be sure to get your tickets to The Merry Wives of Windsor, whose zany hijinks are on stage now at Folger Theatre through March 1.