Harry Potter is Shakespeare

When the latest Harry Potter movie opened and there were people lined up around the block to see the midnight show, I joked that I should have gone up and down the line telling them that they were a week early, Julie Taymor’s The Tempest by William Shakespeare didn’t open for another month.

I wonder, though, what a generation of Harry Potter fans would think if they realized that nearly every major actor in the Harry Potter movies is also a well-known Shakespearean?

There are so many, I don’t even know where to start.

Professor McGonagall / Maggie Smith – Played Desdemona (from Othello), Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing), Portia (Merchant of Venice), and the Duchess of York (Richard III) before Harry Potter ever came along. And, on top of that? Not only did she play the *voice* of Rosaline in a production of Romeo and Juliet (normally Rosaline does not appear in the play), she’s part of the voice talent for Gnomeo and Juliet as well!

I’m just getting started!

Madame Pomfrey / Gemma Jones had her own turn at Portia in Merchant of Venice.

Professor Trelawney / Emma Thompson – Once married to Shakespeare workaholic Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson can be seen in her husband’s Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V .

Professor Snape / Alan Rickman – Famous for that voice of his, one of Rickman’s first film roles was Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. Always the bad guy, it seems.

Sirius Black / Gary Oldman – Dear Sirius gets a special mention on this list for playing half the lead in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which if you’re not familiar is something of a “behind the scenes” retelling of Hamlet, and a pretty amazing piece of movie making.

Bellatrix Lestrange / Helena Bonham Carter We also have the woman who killed Sirius. Ms. Carter was Ophelia to Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, and Olivia in Twelfth Night (thank you, commenter, for reminding me of this major character!)

Professor Gilderoy Lockhart / Kenneth Branagh – You may not even remember Branagh’s role, since he appeared only in the Chamber of Secrets movie. But his presence in the Shakespeare world is undeniable: Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Love’s Labour’s Lost. His 4-hour full-text Hamlet has assured that generations to come will study his contributions to the field.

Voldemort / Ralph Fiennes – He who must not be named is currently wrapping up production on Coriolanus, one of the most rarely filmed Shakespeare plays.

What about Dumbledore? Unfortunately the Harry Potter franchise was not graced with the presence of Sir Ian McKellen, who was busy playing a different wizard. Although he did show up long enough to make Harry Potter nervous. No, Dumbledore was actually played by two different actors – Richard Harris, until his death in 2002, and Michael Gambon in the following movies. Although a long time member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Harris did not perform Shakespeare in any movies that I can locate (though he did play in a television series called “Caesar”, this had nothing to do with the Shakespeare play). Michael Gambon as well was a regular at the RSC, playing King Lear, Othello, and Mark Anthony.

So the next time somebody wants to engage you in conversation about how awesome the acting is in the latest Harry Potter movie, don’t roll your eyes. Instead, ask if they want to rent a movie that Sirius Black made with that dude Pumpkin from Pulp Fiction. Or see if they want to go wait in line with you for Voldemort’s next movie.

UPDATED: I know that we can’t ever make this list complete, and I didn’t try to get every single person, but we can’t forget Barty Crouch / David Tennant.  I mean come on, the man is Hamlet!

UPDATED AGAIN : Added Helena Bonham Carter after being reminded in the comments. I can’t do this for every single update, but I am particularly interested in any actors that have performed Shakespeare on film where you might actually have a chance to see it. If Harry Potter fans do show up and do want to see their favorite characters in Shakespeare roles, I’d like to be able to point them to movie titles they could potentially seek out.

11 thoughts on “Harry Potter is Shakespeare

  1. I'm a huge Shakespeare fan AND a huge Harry Potter fan, so this post is basically the best combination possible. ^__^ Also, I was ridiculously excited when I heard Kenneth Branagh was going to be in the second HP film, even if none of my friends appreciated it.

    I didn't know Ralph Fiennes was in a film version of Coriolanus, though- thanks for the info! I've never seen it performed- should be interesting, hopefully.

  2. Am I too late to join in ? And even the caretaker . . . ??? . . . A fellow townsman of mine ^Walter (of Stratford-upon-Avon)

  3. Zoe Wanamaker (Madame Hooch) is the voice of Lady M in the BBC animated tales – really excellent, too.

  4. Imelda Staunton, who played Maria in Trevor Nunn,s "Twelfth Night" and the Nurse in "Shakespeare in Love" plays/ed Umbrage (sp?), the evil headmistress. TRIVIA: She was/is (?) married to Jim Carter, who played Hastings in McKellen's R3 movie and the Nurse in R&J in "Shakespeare in Love."

    Timothy Spall (Wormtail) played Rosencrantz in Branagh's "Hamlet."

    Ron Weasley's father is played by mark Willimas, who plays the stuttering Chorus in "Shakespeare in Love."


    Helena Bonham-Carter was Olivia in the same film and is also a teacher in one or another of the Potter movies.

    TRIVIA: Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens (Pistol in Branagh's "Henry V" and the Prince in Zeffirelli's "R&J," were married at one time: hteir son, Toby Stephens, was Orsino in the Nunn "TN."

  5. Michael Gambon is actually in the same production of Much Ado with Maggie Smith.

    Fiona Shaw, who plays Harry's aunt, was in a TV production of Richard II, playing Richard II!

    Richard Griffiths plays Harry's uncle, and got his carreer started by playing character roles in Shakespeare, including a brilliant (by most accounts) Falstaff.

    Just a few more. As you said it seems like it would be impossible to find them all, but it's fun trying.

  6. Imelda Staunton was also Margaret in Branagh's "Much Ado," for those of us old enough to remember it fondly.

  7. Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid) cameos as Falstaff in Branagh's Henry V.

  8. Shirley Henderson played Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter and Kate in Shakespeare Retold's Taming of the Shrew.

    What a fabulous list!

  9. Miriam Margolyes, who plays Professor Sprout, the Herbology instructor, played the Nurse in Baz Luhrmann's 1996 "Romeo + Juliet." Looking at her IMDb.com record, she also played Audrey in a 1992 production of "As You Like It."

    Whenever I show a Shakespeare film in class, I help students remember who's playing which character by identifying which character they played in "Harry Potter."

  10. Maggie Dippner says:

    All of these though are just casting. I feel like if you are going to compare Harry Potter to something Shakespeare related, I would focus more on the plot rather than the casting.

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