5 Times Shakespeare Made a Play for Your TV (PHOTOS)

Michal Schick
Moonlighting, Frasier, Doctor Who, I Love Lucy

Everett Collection

TV for the Ages

You just can’t escape Shakespeare. The Bard of Avon’s work is everywhere, leaping past the boundaries of high school English classes to influence teen comedies, Broadway shows, political terminology, and even pop songs. But never was there a greater tale of “Whoa!” than that of Shakespeare and modern television, where Will’s words and ideas can be referenced, repeated, and reinvented for the enjoyment of all. Here are some of our favorite Shakespearean moments on TV!

Doctor Who

Doctor Who, “The Shakespeare Code”

Season 3, Episode 2

It’s all about words, words, words when the Doctor takes Martha Jones to Elizabethan London for her first trip in the TARDIS. In the city of plagues and sewage, the time-traveling companions befriend the real-life William Shakespeare, who is hard at work on his lost play, “Loves Labours Won.” Meanwhile, a troika of Carrionite witches plan to use Will’s “words of power” to destroy Earth and all of humanity—and only the Bard’s own genius (with the aid of JK Rowling) can save them. Peppered liberally with references to Shakespeare’s past and future work (Will deems Martha his “dark Lady” and begins to compose his famous sonnet), “The Shakespeare Code” celebrates the immortality of words… and proves that the play might just be the thing after all.

Best Line:
The Doctor: "Come on. We can all have a good flirt later."
Shakespeare: "Is that a promise, Doctor?"
The Doctor: "Oh, 57 academics just punched the air."

The Simpsons

The Simpsons, “Tales from the Public Domain”

Season 13, Episode 14

Bart Simpson may not make the world’s most convincing Hamlet, but he’s certainly more decisive than Shakespeare’s enduring hero. As Homer reads an overdue library book to his children, the Danish play comes to irreverent life, complete with stabbings, betrayals, and a bottle marked “Ear Poison: Do not get in eyes.” Homer is the overstuffed Ghost of Hamlet’s Father, while Claudius (Moe) confesses his evil deeds at a play performed by Krusty. When Hamlet, Claudius, and Laertes have died, the Queen (played by Marge) declares, “No way I’m cleaning up this mess!” and commits suicide. The rest is silence – and the Simpson family’s declared preference for Ghostbusters over Shakespeare.

Best line: “You’re not supposed to hear me! That’s a soliloquy!”


Frasier, “The Show Must Go Off”

Season 8, Episode 12

In his first appearance on American TV, Sir Derek Jacobi plays Jackson Hedley, a Shakespearian actor who became iconic (and type-cast) as a famous science-fiction android. (No subtle Star Wars references here, folks!) Having seen Hedley perform as children, Frasier and Niles vow to rescue the man who gave them “the gift of Shakespeare,” and mount his one-man show. But both the Bard and the brothers’ egos take a beating when it turns out that Hedley is actually a terrible actor—and about to perform for a theater full of their friends. In spite of the Cranes’ best efforts, neither fire, nor water, nor bodily injury cannot keep Jackson Hedley away from his stage, and Frasier and Niles are left to fight over a pair of earplugs.

Best Line: "Shield yourself, Niles! For the rain, it raineth every day!" [Fraiser sets off the sprinklers… which then sputter out.]

I Love Lucy

Everett Collection

I Love Lucy, “Lucy Meets Orson Welles”

Season 6, Episode 3

Recruiting the legendary Orson Welles to perform at the Copacabana means one thing: Lucy is going to try and get into the action. But Lucy finds herself disappointed when—in spite of a valiant attempt at the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet—Welles only wants her to assist him in his magic act. Learning that her high school drama teacher is in the audience, however, inspires Lucy to take matters into her own hands, and to Welles’ horror, she recites the Bard’s most enduring love-scene while floating on a broom in the center of the stage.

Best Line: "Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo? Romeo? Romeo, get me down from here!"


Moonlighting, “Atomic Shakespeare”

Season 3, Episode 7

Bruce Willis doing Shakespeare? Well, sort of. In a classic deviation from formula, this episode of Moonlighting casts Maddie and David as Katharina and Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew.” The gags fly fast and hard, beginning with a title card that sets the scene in medieval Padua… or “just an incredible facsimile.” From Willis in modern sunglasses and a curly black wig to Cybill Shephard spitting fire at every turn, “Atomic Shakespeare” makes it clear that the line between fictions is a very thin one indeed.

Best line:
Petruchio/David: "To be, or not to be! That is the question!"
Lucentio/Herbet: "Wrong play."

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