A look at Shakespeare’s teenage film adaptations
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Jade, Jenny, Mads, and Summer lead their sparkling LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power that other girls only dream of until Jade’s sixteenth birthday, when they throw a St. Andrew’s preparation party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target. They chose the wrong girl. Sworn to revenge, Jade is transferred to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. And she and her clan have the perfect fit: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly. Beware of the Golden Boys: Something bad happens this way.
There is a subplot in the 1999 film 10 things I hate about you in which a character is obsessed with William Shakespeare, declaring himself in love with him, and another character invites him to the ball like Willy shakes himself.
Modernizations of classics are wild, all of you. You can do anything! (She says, fingers crossed, while writing a modernization of a classic.)
Of course, Katherina and Bianca aren’t in high school in The Tamed Shrew. But high school is the perfect analogue for the drama and intrigue of any Shakespeare play.
Shakespeare’s most famous teenager is obviously Juliet, but her best may be Miranda. In Storm, Miranda puts up with her father’s whims and wants just what every teenager wants which is a nebulous combination of independence, recognition and, in her case, a cute boy. In the 1982 film Storm, Molly Ringwald plays Miranda to John Cassavetes’ Prospero replacement, Phillip Dimitrius. The story was modernized (for 1982) and took place largely in Greece, where Dimitrius takes Miranda and moves in with Athena (Susan Sarandon in Ariel’s analog from the film) until a shipwreck brings his wife (played by Cassavetes’ real wife Gena Rowlands) and lover Alonzo to the island, along with Alonzo’s hot son Freddy (Ferdinand, played Sam Robards, son of Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall).
The film is a lot of literary fiction in the format of moving pictures, but like… in a good way, mostly? I mean, I definitely don’t need movies about New York architects having midlife seizures anymore, but this one has been around for almost 40 years, so I think it can stick around. I wish there were more of Miranda, however.
There aren’t many other canonically adolescent Shakespeare characters who have made their way to film (again, aside from Juliet), but that hasn’t stopped filmmakers from using Shakespeare’s plays for tell stories about adolescents.
In the years 2001 O, prep school basketball provides the setting for jealousy and revenge for Othello. Renamed Odin, the main character (Mekhi Phifer) is beloved by the team’s coach, even above the coach’s son and Odin’s friend, Hugo (Josh Hartnett), an upgraded Iago day. Hugo talks to Roger (Elden Henson) about lying to the school’s dean (John Heard) about Odin’s relationship with Desi (Julia Styles as Desdemona), claiming that Odin raped her. Roger accepts because he has a crush on Desi and Hugo convinces him that he can steal her from Odin. (And that’s literally it in the first five minutes of the movie!) This toxic masculinity study may or may not have been meant as such, but it succeeds nonetheless, making it extremely uncomfortable to watch. Without forgetting, of course, that things do not is fine for anyone in this story.
In She is the man (2006), Viola (Amanda Bynes) assumes the identity of her twin brother Sebastian when her school takes down the girls ‘soccer team and the coach doesn’t let her try for the boys’ team; her football star boyfriend Justin (Robert Hoffman) supports the coach; and Sebastian (James Kirk), who enters a new boarding school where no one knows him, sneaks into London for two weeks at the start of the school year. His project ? Join his school football team as him and beat his own school team in their two-week rivalry match. Yeah, it’s convoluted, but no more than the Bard’s plot. Naturally, Viola develops the feelings of her roommate Duke (Channing Tatum) and her crush Olivia (Laura Ramsey) develops the feelings of Viola, whom she thinks is Sebastian. Shenanigans!
As for such a complex and absurd web of intrigue, She is the man handles everything pretty well. Viola-as-Sebastian behaves alternately like a stereotypical dude and a pseudo-feminist, and I admit I wish she’d just picked one – why not teach Duke and his other newbies friends how to be better men? – but Amanda Bynes is so funny I don’t care.
Which brings me back to 10 things I hate about you. The most meta of Shakespeare’s updates (probably). Not only is there the subplot of Shakespeare’s Girl in Love, Kat and Patrick study Shakespeare’s sonnets in Mr. Mitchell’s English class and when Kat wants to win Patrick back, she writes her own sonnet for him. While this scene might not be as memorable as Patrick bribing the marching band, taking over the school sound system and singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” to Kat, it’s a pretty good statement. of love.
I clearly have a preference for comedies, but anyway I’d like more Shakespeare modernizations happening in high school, please.
Select other modernized stories
Romeo + Juliet (1996) uses the original language and artfully disguises modern settings, including the famous costume party where doomed lovers meet and the designation of Benvolio and Tybalt’s guns as “sword” and “rapier”.
Hamlet (2000) uses the original language in a hyper-modern setting and in a way invents vlogging for the famous soliloquy. Julia Stiles appears once again in this one, playing Ophelia. Karl Geary’s Horatio delivers Shakespeare’s lyrics so casually that I sincerely believe a modern young man would speak that way.
A lot of noise for nothing (2012) also uses the original language and presents the simplest modern setting (probably because it was shot on a very low budget by the director). It’s largely forgettable, in my opinion.