Bringing Shakespeare into the Modern World

These films are Shakespeare thrown into a modern setting

Leonardo+DiCaprio+and+Clare+Danes+star+in+%22Romeo+%2B+Juliet%22. under creative commons license

Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes star in "Romeo + Juliet".

Shakespeare has remained timeless throughout the ages. Readers are still shocked by the villainy of Iago, the star-crossed love of Romeo and Juliet, the vengeful nature of Hamlet. Although, reading Shakespeare’s writing allows analysis of the Elizabethan language, drama was meant to be performed and watched. Also, some modern readers struggle visualizing the setting and the characters of the distant past. The solution? Throwing Shakespeare into a modern setting in order to expose viewers to it in a way that they can relate to and comprehend.

“Hamlet” directed by Michael Almereyda, starring Ethan Hawke as the title character, does an excellent job mixing the Shakespearian dialogue into a relatively modern setting: the business world. In this fresh take, the kingdom of Denmark is a large corporation and Hamlet is the son of the CEO (the king in the original play). This competitive setting creates the correct atmosphere, and gives the play a new perspective.

In the same way, “Romeo +Juliet”, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, blends the dialogue of Shakespeare into the timely city-setting of Verona Beach. Swords are swapped out for guns, but the film retains the original Shakespeare dialogue.

Although this movie does not use Shakespeare’s exact dialogue and alters the characters’ names, “O”, directed by Tim Blake Nelson presents “Othello” in a relatable high school setting. Othello, named Odin in the movie, is a black star-basketball player at a mostly white boarding school, tormented by rumors that his girlfriend, Desi, is unfaithful.  The movie portrays the intensity of the play in a setting that is familiar to young audiences.

Of course, there are many more examples such as “Ten Things I Hate About You”, which is an adaptation of “Taming of the Shrew”. But the point is, one reason why Shakespeare fits so well into the modern world is because he invented it, shaped it. His plays are filled with emotions and human struggles that will always be relatable.

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