Fascinating Adaptations: Shakespeare in Modern Cinema

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Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. Hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear.”

So much of our world has been influenced by Shakespeare, that everyone, regardless of whether they are a literature enthusiast or not, has heard and admired his work. His work has seeped into our lives and so intricately woven his words into our beings, be it indirectly; try as we may, we cannot let go of him.

Not only has he given us innumerable tales of love, tragic endeavours and comic relief, but he has contributed rather vastly to the English language, introducing words like arch-villain, birthplace, bloodsucking, courtship, dewdrop, downstairs, fanged etc.

While movies are adapted explicitly from his plays like the Romeo and Juliet, Othello; Bollywood vmovies like Omkara and Maqbool being takes on Shaespeare’s work, he is  remembered every day. There are some stories so uniquely told, we don’t even realise that they are adaptations of Shakespearean plays.

Let me take you into the magical world of Shakespeare’s adaptations that you probably wouldn’t know.

On television, Shakespeare has been presented in myriad versions, from classic and traditional to downright unrecognizable. Perhaps the most astonishing (and the least known) representation was the Beatles’ tribute to Shakespeare on his 400th birthday whereby they enacted A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Paul McCartney as Pyramus, John Lennon as Thisbe, George Harrison as Moonshine, and Ringo Starr as a bumbling lion. So, if you’re a fan of the Fabulous-Four, you don’t want to miss this out:

In the field of cinema too, Shakespeare’s plays have seen a plethora of manifestations. Douglas Brode notes in his book, Shakespeare in the Movies, “(Shakespeare’s plays) aren’t plays at all; rather, they are screenplays, written, ironically, three centuries before the birth of cinema.”

Did you know that the most successful Disney animation film of all time, The Lion King, is a Shakespearean adaptation? Yes, our beloved Simba is a Shakespearean invention, The Lion King a Shakespearean adaptation.

Hamlet’s plot is mirrored in The Lion King whereby the ghost of the elder King appears to the titular prince and reveals that he was murdered by his brother in a quest of the throne. Simba shares Hamlet’s indecision in living up to his father’s legacy. Strange isn’t it? Our daily dose of Shakespeare began well before we were introduced to literature.

Two other fascinating Shakespearean adaptations are She’s The Manand 10 Things I Hate About You.

It is only fair to say that no-one was expecting a version of Taming of The Shrew in an American High School plot employed in 10 Things I Hate About You. In a startling twist of events and starring Heath Ledger as the classic bad boy, the film manages to make us fall in love, in the Shakespearean fashion. Using the same names, it even manages to sneak in a few Shakespearean quotes. “I burn, I pine, I perish,” says Cameron, who is in love with Bianca. Add to that the classic high school staples— a dance, a date and some lovely poetry, and you’ve got an all time favourite in your VCR.

Similarly, She’s The Man, a hilarious romantic comedy based on Twelfth Night baffles us.

Change a shipwreck to a new high school, and Shakespeare’s tale of gender-bending, disguises and love triangles are tailor-made for the new generation. In a crazy tale of disguise, pining for love and football mania, She’s The Man makes you laugh till your stomach starts to ache.  At the same time, it also makes you shed happy tears when the young couple finally unite to attain a romantic bliss.

The timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes continues to keep his plays fresh. He dramatized basic issues: love, marriage, familial relationships, gender roles, race, age, class, humor, illness, deception, betrayal, evil, revenge, murder, and death. He created unforgettable characters, from lowly thieves to lofty kings, who have become archetypes of modern drama, but yet remain people we can relate to. Perhaps this is why it is easy to accept a drama written decades ago in the form of a high school love story or even that of an animated Disney classic.

Great contemporary poet and playwright, Ben Jonson once remarked that Shakespeare “was not of an age, but for all time,” and truly, his prophecy has been duly fulfilled.

So one thing is clear: Centuries may have passed since William Shakespeare last put ink to paper, but the stories he has spun aren’t going anywhere.

Arushi Walecha


[Image Source: http://windsormedia.blogs.com/photos/uncategorized/shes_the_man.jpg]