Favorite Shakespeare Adaptations (and References)

Today marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.

For me personally, my high school had a fantastic theater program, so that I studied Shakespeare more than most at that age. I made fake blood for a production of Romeo and Juliet, performed in a cabaret of Shakespeare monologues and scenes, even saw the Globe Theater and went to Stratford-on-Avon as part of the program’s trip to England to see The Tempest. I’ve also attended a number of outdoor productions at the Vanderbilt Mansion, which makes a lovely setting for any Shakespeare play.

Shakespeare has inspired people for centuries now, and inspired many works along the way. This is a brief overview of my favorites. Let me know yours in the comments!

“Brush Up Your Shakespeare”

A song from Kiss Me Kate, itself an adaptation within an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, imagine two hardened gangsters singing about how to use Shakespeare to woo women, complete with heavy Brooklyn accents. That is this song. Guaranteed to bring a laugh.

Captain Shakespeare

I love the movie Stardust, based on the book by Neil Gaiman, for many reasons, one of which was not in the book at all.

Captain Shakespeare, played by Robert DeNiro, seems like a tough lightning-harvesting pirate in the magical realm of Stormhold, but once behind closed doors he is… very much the opposite of a macho man. His name is a reference to this dual nature: “I’m thinking ‘Great English wordsmith,’ my enemies and crew are thinking ‘Shake! Spear!'” Sadly, the character never quotes the Bard he is named after, but he makes the movie very fun.

Comic Relief Sketch 2007

Before Catherine Tate joined Doctor Who as a companion, she collaborated with David Tennant, then the Doctor, on this hilarious sketch taking place in a high school Shakespeare class. They have since worked together on a production of Much Ado About Nothing as the hilarious Beatrice and Benedick.

The Lion King

Much has been made of the parallels between The Lion King and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. What irritates me is when people say this makes is derivative or unoriginal.

Shakespeare himself took from other writers, from myths and legends, to create his works. Very little is truly “new” when it comes to fiction, but it is how creators rearrange and make things relevant that makes a work stand on its own, apart from what inspired it.

Other than the, y’know, lions, there is a lot to be said of how Lion King makes Hamlet new and awesome. Nobody dies except Mufasa and Scar, for one. Ophelia/Nala doesn’t go crazy, and is actually pretty awesome. No mothers making out with uncles, or convoluted “let’s make them think I’m crazy” schemes. The “ghost scene” between Hamlet and his father doesn’t come until much later instead of the top of the show. And Hamlet/Simba blames himself for his father’s death. So, though one is inspired by the other, they are not the same, and that’s what makes both awesome.

Reduced Shakespeare Company, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)”

This is just a short clip of the awesomeness that is Reduced Shakespeare. In trying to cram the complete works of Shakespeare in one 90-minute show, the company parodies the whole of Shakespeare canon, while still giving due reverence. You can find the whole taped production here.

“The Shakespeare Code”, Doctor Who

This is definitely one of my top five Doctor Who episodes for multiple reasons, but one is the time-traveling Doctor interacting with the genius Will Shakespeare. David Tennant, who himself has performed Shakespeare brilliantly, spouts off many of the Bards best lines… inspiring the Bard who has yet to write them. Also features a trio of witches/aliens who use Shakespeare’s genius to almost bring about the apocalypse through the rumored lost play Loves Labours Won.
Yeah. Just go watch the episode to get the full context.
Shakespeare in Love

It isn’t historically accurate. I know. But you’ve got to love the concept: a young Shakespeare, still overshadowed by his peers, finds the inspiration for one of his best-loved works from a real-life tragic romance. The play, of course, is Romeo and Juliet. Say what you will about the original, but this film makes a good case for the fact that in an age of plays with broad humor and a bit with a dog, Romeo and Juliet would have stood from the crowd. Sometimes the emotion trumps the logic of the plot.

Something Rotten

Basically the polar opposite of Shakespeare in Love, in which Will is on top and the other playwrights are down in the dumps. Two brothers end up, through bizarre means, creating the world’s first musical. The depiction of Shakespeare himself is… unorthodox, but with Christian Borle in the role certainly hilariously rock star-esque.

Théâtre Illuminata Series

This young adult fantasy series by Lisa Mantchev was one of my favorites as a theater geek teenager, and for good reason. The first book takes place in a magical theater called the Theatre Illuminata, where the characters of every play ever written all exist, bound to the place by the Book of scripts. Within the world is teenage Beatrice “Bertie” Shakespeare Smith, who is not a player or a crew member, but an orphan who has grown up in this world and fears to leave it.

Shakespeare is just all over this series. The titles, Eyes Like Stars, Perchance to Dream, and So Silver Bright, are taken from Shakespeare quotes. The first book features Bertie trying to stage Hamlet in Ancient Egypt. And many of his most famous characters show up, bumping and fighting and snarking: Bertie’s best friends are the troublemaking fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ariel from The Tempest is portrayed as long-haired, blonde, and sexy, and Ophelia shows up to drown herself if there is a body of water around.

This is just a sample of the magic of these books. Some great lines:

  • “[Hamlet] dodged remarkably fast for a melancholy introvert.”
  • “Maybe I got sick of accusations, sick of being Polonius’s daughter, and Laertes’s sister, and Hamlet’s girlfriend. Maybe I wanted, for a short while, simply to be myself.”
  • “The fairies put on their thinking caps, which were red and pointy.”

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Imagine Star Wars… in iambic pentameter.

I’m just going to stop there and give you some lines.

  • “I pray thee, sir, forgive me for the mess/And whether I shot first, I’ll not confess.”  – Han Solo
  • “O help/ Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help. Thou art/ Mine only hope.” – Leia
  • “LUKE —But O, what now? What light through yonder flashing sensor breaks?
    HAN It marks the loss of yon deflector shield.”
West Side Story
Based on classic Shakespeare, though it lost the Tony Award in 1958 to The Music Man, it became a classic itself in the musical theater world. Originally conceived as “East Side Story,” a Romeo and Juliet between a Jewish girl and Catholic boy, the creators were inspired by headlines of gang violence between Puerto Rican and European immigrants to give the story even more relevance. Though the portrayal of the Puerto Ricans is… debatable, the music and the story are timeless.

 

Apologies, Announcements, and Avengers

Hey everyone!
So…it’s kind of been awhile. 
… And by awhile, I mean six weeks.
…Yeah.
I’m really sorry I left it so long. See, I’ve been balancing two new jobs since March, and between that and finishing up some classes at NYU, I honestly haven’t been able to scrounge up the energy to finish a single article. But I’m her to officially say I’m back and ready to write again, so expect a new post this Tuesday! 
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Additionally, some exciting related news –
You can now find Kate’s Curiosities on tumblr! For various fandom gif sets, rants, and observances (as well as the occasional puppies and kitties, as is custom for tumblr 😄 ), follow me!
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I am also on Twitter, though admittedly I’m not on this platform quite as much. But feel free to engage me on this platform, I’ll be sharing some quips, quotes, and fun links.
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Finally, as mentioned, I am currently holding two jobs related to books. One of these is as Children’s Editor on Riffle, which is a visually-based book site that helps you read more books by connecting you with avid readers and books you’ll love. That books list I shared in this post was actually part of my application! 
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I’m mostly covering children’s books up to middle grade, but I also share some more general book related stuff on the Riffle Discussions pages and on the Riffle Childrens tumblr page. I’ll be reviewing books, responding to other people’s reviews, and creating and recommending more awesome booklists. So, check out the site, view and share some booklists, and if you end up joining, make sure to follow me! 
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For your convenience:
Riffle profile: http://read.rifflebooks.com/profiles/119389
Riffle Children’s tumblr: http://rifflechildrens.tumblr.com
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(PS – If you’re already on Goodreads, Riffle has a Goodreads export button to make things easier 😉 )
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Okay, that’s enough announcements for now. And, as compensation for missing so many weeks, here are some extra special Avengers parody videos I hope you’ll enjoy. Thank you for your patience and continued support, can’t wait to get back up and rolling!
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~Kate
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Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey: Revisiting the Past in Doctor Who and the Works of Edward Eage

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(SPOILERS for Doctor Who Series 3-6, the works of Edward Eager, and Meet the Robinsons)

It has occurred to me recently that I don’t talk about books enough on this blog.

Considering that books were among my first loves, this oversight just won’t do. Of course, all types of stories are important, and I’ve talked about good old Harry Potter more than once. But there’s more than just Harry Potter on my bookshelf that deserves spotlighting!

So, like last week, I’m digging into my childhood to analyze an often overlooked favorite, in comparison to a pop culture phenomenon. 

In the 1950s, dramatic writer and lyricist Edward Eager, having a difficult time finding books to read to his son, began writing children’s books in the style of E. Nesbit – stories about ordinary children who stumble on some kind of quirky magic (the first book, for example, involved magic that worked by halves – the children had to wish for twice as much of something if they wanted the wish to work completely) that they then use to go on fantastic adventures through space, time, and even literature, referencing everything from One Thousand and One Nights to Little Women. Along the way, the children typically learn to use the magic wisely, and resolve conflicts in their ordinary lives.

Eager’s tales of magic spanned seven books in all (the last published two years before his death in 1964), but he did not use the same cast of characters across all seven. At most, a given cast of children would span two books. However, the siblings of Half Magic (1954) & Magic by the Lake (1957) and the cousins of Knight’s Castle (1956) & The Time Garden (1958), are connected by more than just their writer.

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What to Marathon When You’re Stuck Inside

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Snowed in (as much of the East Coast will be when this post goes up)? Sick with whatever’s going around school/the office? Just received one of those miraculous days where you have nothing to do and nowhere to be? Unless you have a great book to curl up with (or, y’know, homework), sounds like you need something to marathon!  Read more

Agent Peggy Carter & Sarah Jane Smith: So Awesome They Got Their Own Show (Pt. 2)

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Last week, we started exploring the similarities between Marvel’s Peggy Carter and Doctor Who‘s Sarah Jane Smith, in terms of their roles as supporting and leading ladies.

This week, I’d like to continue this exploration by going into what makes these characters tick. What is it that we love about these characters so much? I confess, it is hard to put into words (and even harder to find evidence in video or gif form). But finally, I think these words best sum it up: 

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Maria, there are two types of people in the world. Those who panic, and then there’s us. – Sarah Jane Smith, “Invasion of the Bane.”

 And then there’s Peggy Carter and Sarah Jane Smith. Bold and intrepid, they face danger unflinchingly, doing what must be done to save others. Where others may panic, they stay calm and figure a way of the situation. This, ultimately, is what makes them valuable both as supporting characters and as leads.

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Agent Peggy Carter & Sarah Jane Smith: So Awesome They Got Their Own Show (Pt. 1)

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So yes – I, like many others last week, have jumped on the Agent Carter bandwagon. Captain America: The First Avenger, I’m not ashamed to admit, is my favorite film of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (though Avengers and the first Iron Man are very close seconds). But, much as I love Steve Rogers (and I do, I really do), his leading lady Peggy Carter is a big part of why I loved that film.Though I don’t like that Peggy is the only substantive female role in the film, I can overlook that due to the depth of the role she is given.

Agent Peggy Carter is a direct, no nonsense, unflinching woman in a man’s job, who constantly proves she is just as, if not more, capable. Rising from her mere love interest status in the comics, Peggy’s character stood out so much to fans and to creators that she has not only appeared in a number of Marvel companion works, but is now the center of her own mini-spinoff.

Which is so awesome! She is so far the only female character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have her perspective as the central narrative**. Steve Rogers might be Peggy’s inspiration and the story’s jumping-off point, but Agent Carter truly is Peggy’s story.

Y’know who’s another awesome female character who went from a supporting role to starring in her own series?

Sarah Jane Smith is acknowledged by much of the Doctor Who fandom to be the most iconic and beloved of the Doctor’s companions (friends who travel with him through time and space, for all you non-Whovians out there). A strong-willed feminist journalist, she appeared on the long-running series from 1973-1976, and was intended to break from the typical female companion of the time, who often screamed at the sight of danger. Though she still acted as the Watson to the Doctor’s Sherlock, she was confident and courageous, and often held her own in bad situations. After leaving the show, she reappeared in an anniversary episode or two, but not much that furthered her story…

…That is until 2006, when the character was brought back for an episode of the rebooted Doctor Who (as the showrunner had been a fan of her character as a child). Viewers appreciated her reappearance so much that she was soon given a spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which was aimed towards a slightly younger audience.

In her spinoff, Sarah Jane becomes the leader of a group of children, using brains instead of brawn to deal with alien threats. Is it childish? A little. There are less developed stories, some gross-out jokes, hammy aliens. But Sarah Jane kept it grounded, always making the stories believable, and causing a new generation of children to fall in love with her. 

Just what is special about these two ladies that caused them to break out from supporting roles to lead their own stories? Perhaps in seeing what they have in common, we can pinpoint that touch of star quality. Though their stories are rather different, we can see a number of parallels in their personalities, initial roles, and later development. Here is part one of our exploration into these two characters.

(SPOILERS for both Captain America films, Agent Carter 1×01-1×02, Doctor Who, and Sarah Jane Adventures)

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