The votes are in … and … Shakespeare’s the Man!

Marge’s post nicely opens up the discussion of remixing classic novels by focusing on Clueless, a rendition of Jane Austen’s Emma and discusses the creativity and originality needed in such renditions. A lot of the best movies of our generation are remixes of classic novels and plays by Shakespeare. One of my favourite movies is She’s The Man, which is a remix of Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night. Another recent rendition of a Shakespeare play is 10 Things I Hate About You, a modernized version of Taming of the Shrew. Both of these movies were quite successful at the box office, together bringing in a total of approximately $111 million dollars – which speaks to the films’  popularity.

These modern adaptations and remixes of Shakespeare’s plays have popularized his work and made his plays accessible to the masses of the 21st century. When Shakespeare is introduced in high school and university english classes collective (and exaggerated) sighs can be heard across the country. Students tend to find the language used inaccessible, which causes them to become distracted and unwilling to learn something difficult, that they perceive as unnecessary and impossible to understand. Personally, I have trouble reading plays – I prefer to watch them, but even watching a Shakespeare play can be difficult if you cannot access the language, which most people have a hard time doing, especially without previous study.

In making these modern versions and remixes of Shakespeare’s work, Hollywood has created a way to overcome this barrier of difficult, inaccessible language. The writers change the setting and time period to one that is easily accessible for their intended audience: a modern day high school. They change the language used to reflect that of the average teenager found here and voila, they’ve created a hit! Suddenly, these students that English teachers are fighting with in class are actually enjoying Shakespeare – they just might not know it. And maybe part of this change of heart is that we are no longer in a classroom setting, but the simple stylistic changes that mask the fact that what they are watching is, indeed, Shakespeare, need to be given credit as well.

Hollywood has turned Shakespearean plays into accessible, manageable, loveable movies that tend to stick with the audience. But what is more important and impressive is that this has been achieved in a simple and yet creative way – the integrity of the play remains intact with only minor changes as mentioned above. However, that these films were (and are) so successful raises an important question: Do we have to remix and modernize every old or classic piece of literature in order for students to relate to and enjoy the material? And if so, how does that effect the literary cannon as we know it?

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4 Responses to The votes are in … and … Shakespeare’s the Man!

  1. olivia.harris says:

    Sometimes it just takes someone who understands the original Shakespeare to bring the content to life for the less-Shakespearean-inclined. I know the first time I saw Romeo and Juliet performed live helped to clarify some of the characters’ motives and personalities. It really wasn’t until watching this performance that I realized the humour involved in many scenes and the use of sexual inuendos! Sometimes breaking down the play and representing it visually helps immensely.
    Your suggestion that removing the student from the classroom setting and presenting a Shakespearean play in the form of a Hollywood adaptation causes a new love for classic literature is spot on. Isn’t it always the case in these teen film adaptations of Shakespeare that the work being studied in the English class seems to reflect the events of the plot? This is another way Hollywood is exposing younger generations to literary content without their explicit knowledge.
    I don’t think its necessary to remix and modernize classic literature for students to enjoy the material, but it is a way to peak their interest. Through my experience as a T.A. I know many students often complain that the material being studied in class doesn’t relate to their life experiences and is too detached from their generation for the content to be interesting. But once they realize that a popular film is actually a classic text they begin to understand just how relatable and timeless these pieces are. I think these Hollywood adaptations create better exposure that allows for a younger audiences to appreciate older works.

    • michelle.keith says:

      I think that’s a really good observation and distinction to make Olivia. This better exposure to literature definitely becomes relevant when teaching. Part of being a TA means explaining why, oh why, these kids are reading what’s on the course syllabus and explaining how it relates to their lives personally. I’ve been surprised and amused by how many students don’t realize that what they are watching was a book first… But then again, this isn’t something that I’ve been aware of my whole life either. I think that this exposure to classic texts really does help them to understand and appreciate the literature that we throw at them in class. When they are able to see a movie as an adaptation or remix of literature, they are able to understand that we study it because, as these easily remixed versions demonstrate, the texts are still relevant today.

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