If William Shakespeare were around today it’s unclear whether he’d have made it as a playwright. My guess is that he’d probably be credited as “Will Shakes,” and would be penning Off-Off-Broadway plays about the Iraq War and submitting spec scripts to Mad Men. So it’s lucky for us that he lived when he lived.
But that doesn’t stop filmmakers from bringing his work into the present day. The Hollywood Reporter has reported that Gerard Butler will be joining Ralph Fiennes in a contemporary adaptation of one of the lesser-produced Shakespearean tragedies, Coriolanus.
This isn’t the first time Shakespeare’s works have gotten a modern makeover. In fact it’s more like the 12,486th. So let’s take this opportunity to look back at the slew of attempts to bring the Bard up to date:
There is, of course, Baz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo & Juliet featuring the PYTs of the MTV generation: Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. It’s a good thing this was made in 1996 before cell phones were so ubiquitous. A couple of quick texts would kind of make all that double suicide stuff a little unnecessary. The romantic tragedy was also adapted even earlier as the classic West Side Story, with the Capulets and Montagues replaced by some of the least threatening gang members this side of Sesame Street.
Ethan Hawke’s 2000 adaptation of Hamlet was pretty straightforward, injecting the Danish prince with a bit of millennial angst. But, for my money, the greatest version of Shakespeare’s best-known play is Strange Brew, the goofy, beer-soaked comedy starring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as their SCTV creations, the McKenzie brothers. Transplanting the tragedy to a Canadian brewery with warring hockey teams somehow makes the tale that much more emotionally resonant and powerful, ya hoser!
High school seems to be a recurring setting for Shakespearean updates. It must be all that backstabbing and rigid social hierarchy that make it such a natural fit. Amanda Bynes dresses like a dude in She’s the Man, based on the cross-dressing comedy Twelfth Night, while Julia Stiles is the shrew that gets tamed in 10 Things I Hate About You. Then there’s O, also starring Stiles, which transposes Othello to a high-school basketball team. Come to think of it, Stiles was also in Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet, which gives her an impressive trifecta. Unless, that is, you believe Save the Last Dance was taken straight from Timon of Athens, like I do, which makes it a quadfecta.
There’s also Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (Henry IV: Part 1), Julie Taymor’sTitus (Titus Andronicus) and Scotland, PA (Macbeth). Have I missed any? On the whole, do you guys tend to like contemporary film adaptations over period pieces, or is it only the story that matters to you, not the setting?
Are there any of the Bard’s other plays you’d like to see updated? Maybe The Tempest set on the Survivor island or A Midsummer’s Night Dream as a Seth Rogen stoner comedy?