World Is Still Shakespeare's Stage

By MATT WOLF Associated Press Writer

LONDON (AP) - The seven Academy Awards won by the hit movie ``Shakespeare in Love'' underscore that the Bard of the now-waning millennium looks set to live on in the next one, too.

With a spate of Shakespeare-inspired films due out for release this year, alongside seemingly ceaseless stage revivals and biographies, all the world's still Shakespeare's stage.

``What people have responded to is a very funny, very romantic, wonderful movie,'' American film director Michael Hoffman said of ``Shakespeare in Love,'' which trumped the favored ``Saving Private Ryan'' to take the best picture Oscar on Sunday.

Hoffman will open his own screen adaptation of Shakespeare's ``A Midsummer Night's Dream,'' starring Calista Flockhart, Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer, this spring.

The populist treatment of the Bard in ``Shakespeare in Love'' gives the genre a boost by helping make Shakespeare's works more accessible to an audience that might formerly have been daunted by the very idea of characters talking in verse.

The movie ``certainly takes Shakespeare out of the ivory tower, which is really great,'' Hoffman said. ``It puts audiences in touch with the notion that this is popular theater.''

``What it's done is blow away the negative associations with period pieces,'' said Oliver Parker, who directed the 1996 film ``Othello,'' with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh.

Shakespeare lives on, Parker said, because his stories ``are essentially extremely passionate. 'Othello' is one of the greatest love stories ever told.''

That wasn't lost on the publishers of a slim volume of verse recently issued bearing the title, ``Shakespeare in Love: The Love Poetry of William Shakespeare.'' Its cover forgoes a picture of the Bard for one of Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow in a clinch.

Two of Shakespeare's best-known lovers, Antony and Cleopatra, will feature in this summer's lineup of four productions at the reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theater by the River Thames in London.

Ticket sales for the season are up markedly, with 20 percent already sold, even though the first performance is two months away.

And moviegoers will have a full curriculum of the Bard's tragedies and comedies to choose from.

Branagh, whose film version of ``Henry V'' more than a decade ago brought him Oscar nominations for best actor and best director, currently is shooting an adaptation of ``Love's Labors Lost,'' with Nathan Lane and Adrian Lester.

The upcoming teen movie ``10 Things I Hate About You'' is freely drawn from ``The Taming of the Shrew,'' Shakespeare's celebrated comedy about the battle between the sexes.

A version of ``Titus Andronicus'' is due for release this year starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. And a new updating of ``Hamlet'' - the third film version of the play this decade - is in the works with Ethan Hawke as the melancholy Dane and Bill Murray as Polonius.

``The period movie is still a niche event,'' said David Aukin, co-chief executive of HAL, a British production company. ``To achieve the sort of breakthrough that 'Shakespeare in Love' has achieved is exceptional.''