Shakespeare, Austen and Propaganda in World War II

  • Rosa García-Periago


This chapter seeks to uncover uncharted territory, the relationship between William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and World War II. It compares Robert Leonard’s Pride and Prejudice (1940) with Laurence Olivier’s Henry V (1944), both produced during WWII, starring Laurence Olivier in the lead role and with clear propagandistic purposes. Via the idealization of English country life, the selection of the cast and certain additions and omissions, the film adaptations achieved their jingoistic aims. Although Leonard’s Pride and Prejudice was not conceived as a leveraging tool toward US intervention, it followed the same strategies used by war movies and subtly influenced the American public regarding what was at stake in the war. Olivier’s Henry V was commissioned by the Ministry of Information (MOI), and thus aimed to boost British soldiers’ morale at the end of the war. Both movies open up fascinating examinations of the context in which they were produced. This chapter highlights the important role played by Austen and Shakespeare in war propaganda, traces the implications of the choice of Austen for American audiences and of Shakespeare for British audiences and seeks to uncover the underlying motives for such choices during the 1940s.


  1. Alexander, Catherine M. S., ed. Shakespeare and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  2. Asquith, Anthony, dir. The Demi-Paradise. Two Cities Films and The Rank Organisation, 1943. DVD.Google Scholar
  3. Barnes, Jennifer. Shakespearean Star: Laurence Olivier and National Cinema. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Belton, Ellen. ‘Reimagining Jane Austen: The 1940 and 1995 Film Versions of Pride and Prejudice’. In Jane Austen on Screen. Edited by Gina Macdonald and Andrew Macdonald. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 175–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. Reprinted with new introduction, 1987.Google Scholar
  6. Cano, Marina. Jane Austen and Performance. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cartmell, Deborah. Interpreting Shakespeare on Screen. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.Google Scholar
  8. ———. Screen Adaptations: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. London: Methuen Drama, 2010.Google Scholar
  9. Chaplin, Charles, dir. The Great Dictator. Charles Chaplin Productions, One Production Company, 1940. DVD.Google Scholar
  10. Chapman, James. Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film. London: I.B. Tauris, 2005.Google Scholar
  11. Copeland, Edward and Juliet McMaster, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.Google Scholar
  12. Cull, Nicholas J. ‘Overture to an Alliance: British Propaganda at the New York World’s Fair, 1939–1940’. The Journal of British Studies 36.3 (1997): 325-354.Google Scholar
  13. Davies, Anthony. Filming Shakespeare’s Plays: The Adaptations of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Peter Brook and Akira Kurosawa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.Google Scholar
  14. ———. ‘The Shakespeare Films of Laurence Olivier.’ In The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. Edited by Russell Jackson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, 167–86.Google Scholar
  15. Donaldson, Peter S. Shakespearean Films/Shakespearean Directors. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.Google Scholar
  16. Ellington, Elisabeth. ‘“A Correct Taste in Landscape”: Pemberley as Fetish and Commodity’. In Jane Austen in Hollywood. Edited by Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield. Kentucky: The University of Kentucky Press, 2001, 90–110.Google Scholar
  17. Fleming, Victor, dir. Gone with the Wind. Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Studios, 1939. DVD.Google Scholar
  18. García Landa, José Ángel. ‘Adaptations, Appropriation, Retroaction: Symbolic Interaction with Henry V’. In Books in Motion. Adaptation, Intertextuality, Authorship. Edited by Mireia Aragay. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006, 181–200.Google Scholar
  19. Henderson, Diana. ‘Meditations in a Time of (Displaced) War: Henry V, Money, and the Ethics of Performing History.’ In Shakespeare and War. Edited by Ros King and Paul Franssen. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 226–242.Google Scholar
  20. Hoenselaars, Ton. ‘Shooting the Hero: The Cinematic Career of Henry V from Laurence Olivier to Philip Purser’. In World-Wide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance. Edited by Sonia Massai. London and New York: Routledge, 2005, 80–87.Google Scholar
  21. Holden, Anthony. Olivier. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988.Google Scholar
  22. Howard, William, dir. Fire Over England. London Film Productions, 1937. DVD.Google Scholar
  23. Humes, James C. Citizen Shakespeare: A Social and Political Portrait. Lanham, Maryland: UPA, 2003.Google Scholar
  24. Inverne, Richard. ‘Henry V in the Cinema: Laurence Olivier’s Charismatic Version of History’. The Historian – Autumn (2015): 25–29.Google Scholar
  25. Jackson, Ashley. The British Empire and the Second World War. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006.Google Scholar
  26. James, Felicity. ‘At Home with Jane: Placing Austen in Contemporary Culture.’ In Uses of Austen: Jane’s Afterlives. Edited by Gillian Dow and Clare Hanson. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 132–53.Google Scholar
  27. Johnson, Claudia. Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jorgens, Jack. Shakespeare on Film. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kemper, Crosby, ed. Winston Churchill: Resolution, Defiance, Magnanimity, Good Will. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  30. King, Ros and Paul Franssen, eds. Shakespeare and War. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.Google Scholar
  31. Korda, Alexander, dir. That Hamilton Woman. Alexander Korda Films and London Film Productions, 1941. DVD.Google Scholar
  32. Lean, David, dir. This Happy Breed. Two Cities Films, 1944. DVD.Google Scholar
  33. Leonard, Robert, dir. Pride and Prejudice. Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Studios, 1940. DVD.Google Scholar
  34. Loehlin, James, ed. Romeo and Juliet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.Google Scholar
  35. Loyd, Kristen. ‘An England Worth Saving: The Domestication of World War II Propaganda in Pride and Prejudice’. War, Literature and the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities 21 (2009): 352–9.Google Scholar
  36. Looser, Devoney. The Making of Jane Austen. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2017.Google Scholar
  37. MacDonald, David, dir. This England. British National Films, 1941. DVD.Google Scholar
  38. Makaryk, Irena and Marissa McHugh, eds. Shakespeare and the Second World War: Memory, Culture, Identity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.Google Scholar
  39. McManus, Donald. ‘Kevin Kline’. In The Routledge Companion to Actors’ Shakespeare. Edited by John Russell Brown and Kevin Ewert. London: Routledge, 2011, 120–31.Google Scholar
  40. Olivier, Laurence, dir. Henry V. Two Cities Films, 1944. DVD.Google Scholar
  41. Roberts, Warren. Jane Austen and the French Revolution. London: Athlone, 1995. First published London: Macmillan, 1979.Google Scholar
  42. Rothwell, Kenneth S. A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  43. Sales, Roger. Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England. London: Routledge, 1994.Google Scholar
  44. Scott, Ian. From Pinewood to Hollywood: British Filmmakers in American Cinema. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Semenza, Greg Colón. The History of British Literature on Film. London: Bloomsbury, 2015.Google Scholar
  46. Seward, Desmond. The Warrior King and the Invasion of France: Henry V, Agincourt, and the Campaign that shaped Medieval England. New York: Pegasus Books, 2014.Google Scholar
  47. Sørbø, Marie. Irony and Idyll: Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park on Screen. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014.Google Scholar
  48. Sutherland, John and Cedric Watts. Henry V: War Criminal? And Other Shakespearean Puzzles. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.Google Scholar
  49. Sutherland, Kathryn. Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.Google Scholar
  50. ———. ‘Jane Austen on Screen’. In The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 215–31.Google Scholar
  51. Taylor, Philip, ed. Britain and the Cinema in the Second World War. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.Google Scholar
  52. Turan, Kenneth. ‘Interview with Ann Rutherford (Lydia), Marsha Hunt (Mary) and Karen Morley (Charlotte Lucas)’. Persuasions On-line 11, 1989.Google Scholar
  53. Wells, Stanley, et al., eds. The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  54. Wood, Sam, dir. Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Studios, 1939. DVD.Google Scholar
  55. Wyler, William, dir. Wuthering Heights. The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1939. DVD.Google Scholar
  56. ———. Mrs. Miniver. Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Studios, 1942. DVD.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rosa García-Periago
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University of MurciaMurciaSpain
  2. 2.Queen’s University BelfastBelfastUK

Personalised recommendations