Theme: Shakespearean Adaptations
Today, April 23, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death (and maybe his 452nd birthday?). I love Shakespeare, and I love getting to read, watch, and listen to adaptations of his work. Sometimes, I love doing this because I can bitch about how horrible it was, like David Wroblewski’s book The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel, which started out as a really interesting book about a family that selectively breeds dogs to be smart and personable and then suddenly jumped the shark and turned into fucking Hamlet with dogs (It’s been six years since I first read it, and I’m still pissed.); mostly, though, I’m just filled with wonder. So, in honor of Shakespeare’s birthday, I wanted to share some of my favorite books, movies, TV shows, and songs that are Shakespearean adaptations. Enjoy!
- Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film Hamlet, staring him in the eponymous role. This 150 – 242 minute film (depending on the version you watch) is perhaps the finest adaptation of the play I’ve ever seen. It is a gorgeous, opulent film making great use of color (specifically Hamlet’s all-black to the vivid whiteness of the castle), cinematography, and set design. It’s available for purchase on Amazon Video, iTunes, and a couple other places, and I just can’t recommend it enough. Click here to watch the trailer.
- Joss Whedon’s 2012 film Much Ado About Nothing. Often when people stage Shakespeare, they focus on gravitas, weighed down by the knowledge that Shakespeare is so well known and well respected. Sometimes, they completely forget about the humor inherent in his works. Not this adaptation. Joss Whedon does a wonderful job of bringing across the silliness of Beatrice and Benedict, including having Benedict flex and pose for Beatrice and the two of them writing horrendous poems for each other. I know people say this about Shakespeare and it’s not always true, but this is a legitimately funny movie. It’s also available for purchase on several streaming sites. Click here to watch the trailer.
- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield is a play that mashes together all of Shakespeare’s works (including his sonnets), telling them forwards, backwards, sideways, and even in rap. Whether watched (which you can see here) or read (which you can purchase here), it is a hilarious. Great fun to do with your friends – and it’s barely 90 minutes long!
- Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. 1996 was a great year for Shakespeare adaptations. This version of Romeo & Juliet takes place on Venice Beach between two feuding gangs and features that inimitable Harold Perrineau as a cross-dressing, drunken, sex-fueled Mercutio. It was my first introduction to Shakespeare, and it fueled a life-long love of it. I watched it at a sleep-over when I was 9 – that’s how good of a movie it is. Click here to watch the trailer.
- The “God, I Hate Shakespeare!” and “It’s Hard to Be the Bard” Something Rotten! mash-up on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. This mash-up is arguably the best part of the play which, while amusing, loses its shine fairly quickly. But if you want someone freaking out about how over-rated they think Shakespeare is and then Shakespeare strutting on stage in leather pants, a codpiece, and a shirt collar practically down to his belly button while whining about how hard it is to be a writer, this is absolutely for you. While you’re at it, I would recommend you click here to listen to “Will Power,” another Something Rotten! musical number that equates listening to Shakespeare speak with a rock concert. It’s awesome.
- Fool by Christopher Moore. This hilarious novel takes the characters from King Lear and reimagines them slightly so as to put the Fool, Lear’s one true confidante, in the center. It’s irreverent, impious, sexy, and LOL-worthy. I would also recommend you check out Moore’s follow-up book The Serpent of Venice, which features the Fool interacting with Othello and his crew and occasionally having sex with a mermaid. A great read.
- Doctor Who’s “The Shakespeare Code” (Season 3, episode 2). This episode features The Doctor (played by David Tennant) and Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman) going back to Elizabethan England and meeting with William Shakespeare himself. They have to save him from alien witches that want to use his incredible writing power to take over the planet. The joy all of them get in meeting each other and the interpretation of Shakespeare are just wonderful. Even if you’re not into Doctor Who, this is a great watch.
- Tom Stoppard’s 1990 film Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. This movie, written and directed by the original playwright Tom Stoppard, takes the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet and posits what they were doing during the play. It’s an absurd, existentialist tragicomedy similar to Waiting for Godot, and Gary Oldman and Tim Roth play their roles to perfection. The dialogue can be a bit too fast sometimes, but it’s a great movie.
- Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde. This is the fourth book in Fforde’s Thursday Next series, and it’s arguably one of the best (though The Eyre Affair may be slightly better). In this book, Thursday Next, the Literary Detective who’s been living in fiction for the past two years fighting fictional crime and raising her child, returns home to Swindon to finally bring her husband back from time, take down the Goliath Corporation, win the World Croquet League final, and teach Hamlet about the real world. Honestly, you should read the whole series (through this book, anyway). It’s a gem.
- Shakespearean song/sonnet parodies. I wasn’t quite sure how to describe these, but I wanted to shove them all in the end anyway. It all started with this Tumblr post that envisioned Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” as a Shakespearean sonnet. It’s gold. Then Erik Didriksen of Pop Sonnets decided to start adapting modern pop songs into Shakespearean sonnets. Also fabulous. And finally, we have this Shakespearean “Thrift Shop” parody. It’s truly a great day to be alive. Enjoy!