Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shakespeare, War of the Roses, and Game of Thrones

My “appointment television” for Sundays is HBO’s Game of Thrones.  I’ve been following the development of the series from the time it was only a twinkle in the eye of HBO – before the pilot was made – and now finally the series has started and it is living up to more than my expectations.   Though I’ve read three of the four books that are so far part of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF)  by George R. R. Martin (GRRM), and am now on the fourth,  I’m very much a novice in this fantasy world.

When I first heard about the possible TV series, and contemplated reading the first book, “A Game of Thrones,” I had my doubts I would read them all.   When I reach for a good read, I don’t tend to reach for fantasy fiction.   But aside from the obvious reason I became interested in GRRM’s books (the casting of Sean Bean as Lord Eddard Stark, one of the Point of View (POV) characters in the novels), my interest was also sparked when I read that the author was inspired by a real historical event,  The War of the Roses.

I’m not a historian by any means, but I have an interest in certain historical periods, and I love a good historical novel.  The thought of reading a series of fictional novels based on a historical period I knew a little about, with political intrigue, and swords and castles was irresistible to me.  But in the last few weeks as I’ve watched Game of Thrones on Sunday I realized that most of my knowledge of the War of the Roses comes not from historical facts, but from William Shakespeare.  

For as long as I can remember I have watched or read the plays from Richard II to Richard III, and the Henry’s in between (Henry IV Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, Henry V, Henry VI).  I’ve seen the plays performed by legendary actors in film and on television, and have seen the plays on stage by amateur and professional actors.  I can’t say that I can recite every line of every performance, but I can’t separate the historical facts I learned in school, from Shakespeare’s characters.

Though set in a totally fictional world, with unique and fascinating totally fictional characters, I can see how the ASOIAF books and the Game of Thrones series were and are inspired by English history, and by Shakespearean drama.    

Below are a few videos of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses or related to the history plays that I've thought about in the last few weeks while watching Game of Thrones.  

 Would love your comments as always.

One of my favorite films and a favorite speech from Richard III (Laurence Olivier):

In 1964 The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) filmed the War of the Roses series of plays, and I was lucky enough to see them a couple of decades later thanks to U.S. Public Television. Below are two clips from the RSC plays:

Sir Ian McKellen made a series of videos to help audiences better understand Shakespeare's language. Reminds me of his one man play/show, "Acting Shakespeare":

Many actors and directors have been interviewed about what Shakespeare means to them or how they prepare to play Hamlet or Macbeth, but in 1996 Al Pacino made a unique and fun film with several of his friends, including Kevin Spacey, about directing and performing Richard III, and here's a video clip from the film "Looking for Richard" (with Spanish subtitles!)

I have to say, there's something about that title, 
Looking for Richard, that really inspires me :)

Two of my favorite scenes in another of my favorite Shakespearian films,  Henry V, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Kenneth Branagh:

Click on the link below to revisit an earlier post that includes Kenneth Branagh talking about directing:

I'll finish my tale with a scene from Game of Thrones with Mark Addy and Sean Bean:


  1. as you know, historical shows and films are my favourite, and I also love reading and translating historical books best as well.
    I loved Kenneth Branagh's HENRY! And I also loved LION IN WINTER with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close, one of the best TV projects I've ever seen in my life.
    Off course, I also loved THE TUDORS.
    GAME OF THRONES is absolutely brilliant. It's not confusing and unfocused as other two current epics CAMELOT and THE BORGIAS.

  2. Hi Dezz! Glad we share the love of historical films, and books, and films in general :)

    I was also very disappointed in The Borgias, and I was so looking forward to it. How can you make a historical drama and forget to include the history part of it! Ended up being a crazy and empty soap opera with great sets and costumes! Even Jeremy Irons can't save it. I also started watching Camelot, but gave up after a few episodes...may give it another chance...

    I agree about The Lion in Winter, I also love the movie with Peter O'Toole.

  3. Hello - I've not read your post yet because as I type this I have Game of Thrones starting on TV (I have on demand - it's the plan for this rainy weekend to watch all five episodes available right now. Are there more to come?) Will be back once I've finished it.

    BTW - many thanks for linking my blogpost in your sidebar. I'll be posting an update tomorrow am. :)

  4. @calexora You're very welcome, I love your blog :)

    There are 10 episodes in Season 1, so we're only halfway through. Look forward to your comments and what you think of GoT so far :)


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