Have you ever wondered what Shakespeare’s characters would do if they lived in our times? Well, according to recent movie adaptations, Romeo and Juliet date amidst a gang war, Katherine is a feminist high-school student, Viola shows off her talent on the football field, Othello tries out for the basketball team, Beatrice and Benedick quarrel on set of a news studio, Macbeth is an ambitious chef in Duncan’s Michelin-starred restaurant, and Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius find themselves in the enchanted woods around a holiday park.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? You’ve probably watched at least one of the movies I’m referring to: Romeo + Juliet (1996), Ten Things I Hate About You (1999), She’s the Man (2006), O (2001), or BBC’s TV miniseries ShakespeaRe-Told (2005). Even if you might not always notice it, but Shakespeare is actually quite present in today’s pop culture.
But isn’t Shakespeare, THE epitome of high culture, at odds with such trivial pop productions? Actually, no. What many people tend to forget is that Shakespeare was not considered ‘elistist’ during his lifetime. To the contrary, his work on and behind the stage fulfilled many criteria that are commonly ascribed to pop culture. Theaters were places of entertainment that were attended by people of all social classes. And these people weren’t on their best behaviour–it was common that the audience randomly yelled or booed at the actors on stage, sometimes even throwing fruit at them. Long story short, the label “high culture” was given to Shakespeare only after his death, when two of his fellow writers composed the First Folio and marketed it for the elite.
Of course, this is not to say that his works are not brilliantly composed or not intellectually demanding, but that we should move away from equating popular with trivial. Pop adaptations such as those mentioned above allow us to rediscover Shakespeare’s stories. Beyond being entertaining, they ask us to see his plays in a whole new light. On top of that, I think these productions might be a great way to introduce young student to Shakespeare’s topics and to show them that there’s more to the plays than their dense language.
It’s often jokingly assumed that if Shakespeare was alive today, he’d be a Hollywood director, and I think there’s actually some truth in it. What movies do you think he’d direct?
Let’s discuss in the comment section below!