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Shakespeare: The Animated Tales

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7.1/10 TV

Developed by  Leon Garfield
Creative director(s)  Dave Edwards
Final episode date  14 December 1994
8.4/10 IMDb

Created by  Christopher Grace
Written by  William Shakespeare
First episode date  November 1992
Networks  HBO, BBC Two, S4C
Shakespeare: The Animated Tales Resource Romeo and Juliet The Animated Tales Into Film
Also known as  'The Animated Shakespeare (US)
Genre  Comedy, Tragedy, History
Cast  Hugh Grant, Fiona Shaw, Tom Wilkinson

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Shakespeare: The Animated Tales (also known as The Animated Shakespeare) is a series of twelve half-hour animated television adaptations of the plays of William Shakespeare, originally broadcast on BBC 2 between 1992 and 1994.


Shakespeare: The Animated Tales Shakespeare Experience The Animated Shrew

The series was commissioned by the Welsh language channel S4C. Production was co-ordinated by the Dave Edwards Studio in Cardiff, although the shows were animated in Moscow by Soyuzmultfilm, using a variety of animation techniques. The scripts for each episode were written by Leon Garfield, who produced heavily truncated versions of each play. The academic consultant for the series was Professor Stanley Wells. The dialogue was recorded at the facilities of BBC Wales in Cardiff.

Shakespeare: The Animated Tales Shakespeare the Animated Tales Cast Images Behind The Voice Actors

The show was both a commercial and a critical success. The first series episode "Hamlet" won two awards for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation" (one for the animators and one for the designers and director) at the 1993 Emmys, and a Gold Award at the 1993 New York Festival. The second season episode "The Winter's Tale" also won the "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation" at the 1996 Emmys. The episodes continue to be used in schools as teaching aids, especially when introducing children to Shakespeare for the first time.

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Shakespeare: The Animated Tales BBC2 Schools Continuity Compilation Shakespeare The Animated Tales

The series was conceived in 1989 by Christopher Grace, head of animation at S4C. Grace had previously worked with Soyuzmultfilm on an animated version of the Welsh folktale cycle, the Mabinogion, and he turned to them again for the Shakespeare project, feeling "if we were going to animate Shakespeare in a thirty-minute format, then we had to go to a country that we knew creatively and artistically could actually deliver. And in my view, frankly, there was only one country that could do it in the style that we wanted, that came at it from a different angle, a country to whom Shakespeare is as important as it is to our own." Grace was also very keen to avoid creating anything Disney-esque; "Disney has conditioned a mass audience to expect sentimentality; big, gooey-eyed creatures with long lashes, and winsome, simpering female characters. This style went with enormous flair and verve and comic panache; but a lot of it was kitsch."

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The series was constructed by recording the scripts before any animation had been done. Actors were hired to recite abbreviated versions of the plays written by Leon Garfield, who had written a series of prose adaptations of Shakespeare's plays for children in 1985, Shakespeare Stories. According to Garfield, editing the plays down to thirty minutes whilst maintaining original Shakespearean dialogue was not easy; "lines that are selected have to carry the weight of narrative, and that's not always easy. It frequently meant using half a line, and then skipping perhaps twenty lines, and then finding something that would sustain the rhythm but at the same time carry on the story. The most difficult by far were the comedies. In the tragedies, you have a very strong story going straight through, sustained by the protagonist. In the comedies, the structure is much more complex." Garfield compared the task of trying to rewrite the plays as half-hour pieces as akin to "painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on a postage stamp." To maintain narrative integrity, Garfield added non-Shakespearean voice-over narration to each episode, which would usually introduce the episode and then fill in any plot points skipped over by the dialogue. The use of a narrator was also employed by Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb in their own prose versions of Shakespeare's plays for children, Tales from Shakespeare, published in 1807, to which Garfield's work is often compared. However, fidelity to the original texts was paramount in the minds of the creators as the episodes sought "to educate their audience into an appreciation and love of Shakespeare, out of a conviction of Shakespeare as a cultural artifact available to all, not restricted to a narrowly defined form of performance. Screened in dozens of countries, The Animated Tales is Shakespeare as cultural educational television available to all."

The dialogue was recorded at the sound studios of BBC Wales in Cardiff. During the recording, Garfield himself was present, as was literary advisor, Stanley Wells, as well as the Russian directors. All gave input to the actors during the recording sessions. The animators then took the voice recordings back to Moscow and began to animate them. At this stage, the project was overseen by Dave Edwards, who co-ordinated the Moscow animation with S4C. Edwards' job was to keep one eye on the creative aspects of the productions and one eye on the financial and practical aspects. This didn't make him especially popular with some of the directors, but his role was an essential one if the series was to be completed on time and under budget. According to Elizabeth Babakhina, executive producer of the series in Moscow, the strict rules brought into play by Edwards actually helped the directors; "Maybe at long last our directors will learn that you can't break deadlines. In the past, directors thought "If I make a good film, people will forgive me anything." Now they've begun to understand that they won't necessarily be forgiven even if they make a great film. It has to be a great film, and be on time."


There was considerable media publicity prior to the initial broadcast of the first season, with Prince Charles commenting "I welcome this pioneering project which will bring Shakespeare's great wisdom, insight and all-encompassing view of mankind to many millions from all parts of the globe, who have never been in his company before." An article in the Radio Times wrote "as a result of pre-sales alone, tens of millions of people are guaranteed to see it and Shakespeare is guaranteed for his best year since the First Folio was published in 1623." One commentator who was distinctly unimpressed with the adaptations, however, was scholar and lecturer Terence Hawkes who wrote of the episodes, "they will be of no use. They are packages of stories based on the Shakespearean plots, which themselves were not original. So they aren't going to provide much insight into Shakespeare."

The second season aired two years after the first, and received considerably less media attention.


A major part of the project was the educational aspect of the series, especially the notion of introducing children to Shakespeare for the first time. The series was made available to schools along with a printed copy of the script for each episode, complete with illustrations based on, but not verbatim copies of the Russian animation. The printed scripts were slightly longer than Garfield's final filmed versions, but remained heavily truncated. Each text also came with a study guide for teachers. The Animated Tales have gone on to become "one of the most widely used didactic tools in British primary and secondary schools."

In 2000, Christopher Grace launched the Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF) using Leon Garfield's twelve abridged scripts. The festival takes place annually, with hundreds of school children performing half-hour shows in professional theatres across the UK.

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  • References

    Shakespeare: The Animated Tales Wikipedia