Yep, I admit it. I’m a total book nerd. I love Shakespeare.
It all started in 9th grade…
My English teacher introduced us via Romeo and Juliet. At the time, I rolled my eyes and
groaned, mistakenly thinking I’d be bored to death by long-winded prose and overly flowery language. But, even though my moody, everything-sucks, 14-year-old self wanted to hate it, I couldn’t. (Thanks Mrs. McDermott!)
(Fun fact: We owe a lot of words to Shakespeare. You’d be surprised how many. http://mentalfloss.com/article/48657/20-words-we-owe-william-shakespeare.)
My affection is tested (literally and figuratively)…
My Shakespeare education started in high school, but was cemented in college. I took classes, read plays, wrote essays and interpretations, watched Shakespeare-inspired movies. Shakespeare started to take on a new dimension. In fact, I nearly cried with joy when my Norton Anthology of Shakespeare plays survived a house fire in college.
Then comes love….
While my formative education years introduced me to the classic plays, moving to NYC exposed me to whole new world of unique Shakespeare adaptations. On one of my first dates with my future husband, he took me to “The Donkey Show,” a dance-filled/weird/awesome/strange/confusing/amazing interactive musical play experience of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set to disco. (Yes, I said disco.) I was smitten (with the play and my future husband because of it) before they even sang “Car Wash.” In my opinion you haven’t experienced Shakespeare until you’ve seen Oberon wearing roller skates singing along to “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” (The Donkey show isn’t in NYC anymore, but I hear it’s back in Boston and London! Might need to make a trip!)
NYC provided a lot of other opportunities for me to experience great Shakespeare adaptations. I’ll never forget a play called Two Girls From Vermont, a modern day take on Two Gentlemen from Verona, that I saw at Fringe Fest. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt afterwards. I also had a chance to see the illustrious Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard!!!!) play MacBeth in a Stalin era adaptation. No words for that other than “awe-struck.”
I haven’t lived in the NYC area for nearly 8 years now, but these experiences are still fresh in my mind. Shakespeare just sticks with me. I think that means it’s love.
So, why am I bringing up my story undying love for The Bard right now…
You mean, other than the fact that he is one of literature’s great storytellers and deserving of it for that alone? Well, you may not have heard, but this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Also, my book,, The Travelers, may have been slightly influenced by Romeo and Juliet, particularly the idea of two teens caught between warring families.(Side note: In The Travelers, Dagny’s family is said to be about that old. Wonder if they maybe met him. Hmmm…That might make an interesting side project.)
I’m sure others have paid homage to this topic far better than I. Still, given my enjoyment of the non-traditional Shakespeare adaptations, I thought it might be fun to summarize some of my favorites.
Before I start, I have an honorable mention: Margaret Atwood recently released a retelling of The Tempest called Hag-Seed, which takes place at a prison in modern day. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my short list to read soon.
Now, for the list…
- Fool by Christopher Moore. This witty novel retells King Lear through the perspective of a jester named Pocket. It’s crass and funny and, ironically, unique.
- Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet movie. Classic language and story dropped into a highly stylized film set in the late 20th century, somehow it works. Others have tried this formula, but I still think this is the best.
- 10 Things I Hate About You. Yes, it’s a teen comedy from the ’90s. Once you get past that, you’ll realize it’s also a pretty smart modern adaptation of Taming of the Shrew. (Sorry, another side note, last one I swear: Could the title Taming of the Shrew be more sexist? Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time and tell W. S. not to be a big fat sexist jerk and come up with a better one. So, I guess we’re stuck with it. Hmmm….Maybe another side project?)
- YOLO Juliet. This last one on my list is bound to be controversial. But, when I came upon this book at the Sacred Circle bookstore in Staunton, VA, I’d never seen anything like it before. It’s Romeo and Juliet retold using text messages and emojis. It’s kind of like an “abbreviated Shakespeare” show, but in book form. Some of you Shakespeare or general literary purists may think this is sacrilege. But, I think it’s hilarious and clever. (Proceed with criticism now.) Just think though, this book may introduce Shakespeare to new readers and how could that be bad?
So, thank you Shakespeare. After 400 years you’re characters still make us laugh and cry, and now have the added benefit of doing it while wearing bell bottoms and texting.